Millions Of Employed Americans Struggle To Make Ends Meet

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: MAY 30, 2018 – 10:18:17 AM  What’s your opinion on this article?


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.”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.

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.


“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.

How Healthy Is Gentrification Part III


In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock has have tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs, and have left them at increased risk of getting displaced.
In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock has have tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs, and have left them at increased risk of getting displaced.

By Barrington M. Salmon, ​​(USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellow), Contributing Writer, NNPA

When Detrice Belt walks around what’s left of her neighborhood and community, she is saddened because of the destruction of the place she calls home. She is deeply frustrated by the struggle she and the remaining residents at Barry Farm have been wrapped in for the past six years and is apprehensive about the health effects this facet of gentrification has had on her and her daughter.

Belt, 33, president of the Barry Farm Tenants’ Association, is one of 80 families left out of a total of 434 who lived in the historic Southeast DC community. She has been one of the sparks of resistance for a group of residents who are committed to staying put as DC city officials demolish and rebuild the 432-unit community into 1,400 residential units of mixed-income housing and retail stores. Officials have promised to set aside 300 affordable units with the remaining units available at market rate.

Apart from the stress and anxiety of possibly losing her home, Belt, a dental hygienist and owner of two pit bulls and a turtle, said she worries about what lasting health effects this entire experience will have on her daughter​​and herself.

“They just found lead in some units on Stevens Road. They called people and were coming to paint over the areas with lead,” she explained. “I understand that a test hasn’t been done in 20 years. They snuck in​to​my house to paint the banisters, but someone can chip it and it’s (the lead’s) still there.”

Belt said she is aware of the health dangers to her caused by the dust and debris coming from the demolition of nearby houses, then there’s the noise of construction and the long-term and irreversible effects of lead paint exposure on residents. Belt and residents fighting against gentrification and potential health problems are intent on reducing the forced move and lowering the stress that comes with sudden change, including noise, dust and adjusting to a new cultural environment.

DC housing officials usually move public housing residents from their homes until renovations or rebuilding is completed. Despite promises that residents can return once renovations are done, Belt said she’s aware that only a small percentage of residents have the ability or means to do so​, ​which is why she’s so adamant about staying in place while Barry Farm is rebuilt.

“I’m anxious. They’re using fear tactics trying to force us out, but we told them that we want to stay in place,” said Belt. “We’re willing to occupy Barry Farms. People are ready. I’m definitely still fighting.”

Belt’s solutions include ensuring that if residents have to move off the property, housing authority staff should​​move them into some place new faster; residents should get priority when it’s time to be resettled; and wherever possible, residents should be allowed to stay on the property while builders and developers build, and then move into newly constructed homes.

Belt is not alone in worrying about her health and quality of life.

Across town, in Northeast DC, Donta Waters, Leon Lightfoot, their families and other residents at Dahlgreen Courts Apartments, are fighting their own battles against gentrification and its impact on their health. After laboratory tests they agreed to, residents recently discovered that 40 of 42 of them ​​have elevated levels of lead, mold and bio-toxins.

The resulting health implications for his wife and son alarmed longtime DC resident Leon Lightfoot. Lightfoot, a 55-year-old truck driver, husband and father of a son who is a Howard University student, said it makes him very angry when he contemplates how he and others have been treated.

“For a whole year, this is how we lived,” said Lightfoot, who has lived in the complex since 1999. “After the renovations in 2012, we moved back in and then six months later we saw water damage in the living room. The walls, carpet and floors had mold. We dealt with these problems from August 2016 to July 2017. They put us up in a hotel for three days. I thought it was termites, but it was mold. Specialists came in, cut out the wall and put a white coating on it to stop the water.”

“We still have problems with water and mold. I’m very concerned for my wife and my son. I have headaches, respiratory problems and now I have to use an inhaler. My wife and son have asthma. I’m so pissed off that my wife and son have to endure this.”

Despite the buildings being renovated in 2011-2012, tenants described ​being exposed​​to lead ​(which appeared during renovations); rodent infestation; damage to the units because of water leaking ​into apartments ​through the walls and ceilings; homes overrun with mold; and residents coming down with a variety of illnesses caused by lead, mold and contamination from bio-toxins and other chemical agents.

Lightfoot said he and fellow tenants have sought solutions to their myriad problems through advocacy, putting pressure on ​DC ​Mayor Muriel Bowser and other public officials by​​showing ​​​up in their offices, flooding city council meetings and putting the issues they’re dealing with ​directly in front of these officials.

​​Meanwhile, the tenants association, in an effort to seek redress, filed a $5 million lawsuit ​​in DC Superior Court earlier this year. The tenants are seeking financial compensation for the disruption to their lives and possible health impacts.

In the District of Columbia, a shortage of affordable housing, a hyper-expensive rental market and aging and vanishing housing stock ​has​​have​tenants battling spiraling rents and housing costs, and​have left them at​​increased risk of ​getting​​​displaced.

In 2017, according the US Census Bureau, the median household income of white residents, who make up 36 percent of the ​District’s population​​, rose $2,568 to $127,369​,​while the median income of black residents, ​who make up​​​or​​​​46 percent, fell $3,631,​to $37,891. Meanwhile, 46 percent of​​these black​​residents in the Washington Metropolitan Area spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing costs. Those middle- and lower-income residents left in Washington, DC have limited options to move or relocate, and little money left to take care of​​​​food, medicine, utilities, transportation and other needs.

Some DC government programs do offer solutions and buffer residents from the health-related ill-effects of gentrification. However, it’s sometimes hard to make a direct link between gentrification and disparate health effects, and housing advocates, members of the medical community and other experts understand that if work is done to stabilize neighborhoods and larger communities, residents — and tenants, by extension — will be healthier.

It’s only in recent years that researchers, physicians, pediatricians, academics and others have begun to drill down to ascertain what, ​if any, ​health​effects might befall displaced residents as a result of ​gentrification​. These studies have been able to move anecdotal information into empirical data and quantify the potential health impacts of gentrification.

A recent New York study, for example, illustrates the link between gentrification and mental health. The study​had found that hospitalization rates for mental illness – including schizophrenia and mood disorders – are two times as high in displaced persons​​versus those who remain in their neighborhood.

This is one of the first US studies to quantify the hidden mental health consequences of gentrification.

Housing advocates, policy makers and those in search of solutions understand that they have to go beyond treating symptoms, like asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes and get a handle on the very process of controlling gentrification.

In Oakland, California, housing rights advocates and residents have been ​protesting, engaging in civil disobedience ​and​​​trying​​to get city and county officials to listen and enact policies designed to stem and change the effects of gentrification on low-income, middle-class and long-time residents.

They are driven by studies that have revealed any number of negative health-related consequences among vulnerable populations wrought by gentrification, including a higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, ​and​​cardiovascular disease ​and​​shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; and greater instances of infant mortality.

Just as critical are other health effects experts say ​are​​caused by “limited access to or availability of healthy food choices, affordable healthy housing; quality schools, transportation choices​​(including ​​bicycle and walking paths), exercise facilities [and] social networks.”

A 2014 report, produced by the Alameda Public Health Department and Just Cause (Causa ​Justa, CJJC) which provides free tenant counseling and case management for low-income residents of Oakland and San Francisco – focused on gentrification in ​Oakland, California.

It​​was in response to a growing concern and a recognition of the connections between deepening health problems and disparities in health among children in Oakland and the conditions created by dilapidated housing, especially given the Bay Area’s high rents and extreme housing shortage. Community organizers, non-profits and residents have used advocacy, political pressure and civil disobedience to bring public officials to first understand and then be willing to act on political and policy solutions to the deleterious effects of gentrification.

The report offers solutions, which, though not specifically health-related, are designed to lessen or eliminate the health impacts of gentrification. These include: developing a proactive or healthy housing inspection program; tenant protections to counter dramatic increases in housing costs, lowering the risk of instability, eviction and harassment from landlords; overcrowded housing;​​living in poor housing and neighborhood conditions; preserving housing at all affordability level​s​​,prioritizing funding for rehabilitation and repair of existing housing stock; creating greater alignment and coordination between local government, health providers, and community-based organizations to address gaps in data.

Shelterforce, an independent nonprofit publication ​that​​and sometimes challenges those in the community development field, offers a number of ​solutions​aimed at preventing gentrification. In ​a story​​​titled, ‘7 Policies that Could Prevent Gentrification,’ solutions include: aggressively building middle-income housing; reducing or freezing property taxes to protect long-time residents; and prohibiting large-scale luxury development in at-risk neighborhoods.

Other solutions are enacting and strengthening rent control laws and developing Community Land Trusts. Those involved with or tracking gentrification​assert that community land trusts (CLTs) are a critical element in the palette of options available for cities seeking neighborhood stability through affordable housing. They​​​say​​obtaining public land for a land trust​is a way to address issues of environmental justice and displacement by creating open spaces, community gardens and much-needed affordable housing.

“I think community land trusts have to be the wave of the future, said Dominic Moulden, resource organizer of the housing advocacy organization, One DC (Organizing Neighborhood Equity). “Rent spikes are making it so that regular people can’t live in or afford them. With community land trusts, people living in certain areas control public and private land. You can get grants from the government to pay the taxes and local residents control the land.”

“People are doing this around the world – Burlington, Portland, Maine, the United Workers in Baltimore, Boston, and the New Columbia Land Trust and the 11​th​Street Land Trust here in DC.”

While Moulden and David Bowers, a longtime housing advocate, said CLTs are viable and necessary solutions to counter gentrification. Bowers, who has been working with government officials, foundations, developers and others for more than a decade said, he has seen some promising projects from philanthropic organizations but he still doesn’t see the political will needed by elected officials to confront and significantly address the myriad problems gentrification has wrought.

In his many conversations and interactions with government officials, Bowers said, the type of movement to effect real change has been absent.

“We need to stop having million-dollar conversations about billion-dollar problems,” he said. “I haven’t seen a fundamental shift over the last few years. On the government side there is a commitment to hold the line budget-wise. The policy and investment are not there. What we have seen is no sense of urgency by elected officials to solve problems within a defined amount of time and no intentionality.”

But Bowers said there is a significant movement, where people who had not been involved before have stepped up. He cited the case of Kaiser Permanente whose officials recently announced plans to invest $200 million to develop affordable housing nationwide.

“They are not a housing group or lender, but they recognize the connection between health and housing,” said Bowers, vice president and Washington impact market leader for Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. “It’s not just a government thing. Foundations who care about the racial equity gap in terms of health and wellness have an opportunity to have a significant impact on providing affordable housing at a time when housing stocks continue to dwindle.”

This article was produced as a project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship.

About Barrington Salmon  4633 Articles
Liberation Journalist Barrington Salmon lived and wrote in Florida (Miami and Tallahassee) for almost 20 years. He is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications, including The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer. Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station. The Washington metro area has been Barrington’s home for 20 of the past 22 years, broken up by a two-year stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar. Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, BarringtonSalmonWrites.

How Health Is Gentrification Part I

By Barrington M. Salmon (BlackPressUSA/NNPA Newswire Contributor)This is the first article in a series focused on the health effects associated with gentrification in Washington, D.C. This series is supported through a grant awarded to Barrington Salmon for a journalism fellowship with the Center for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School of Journalism at the University of Southern California.

A new building erected over the third street tunnel in the Nation’s Capitol.

By many measures, the revitalization of neighborhoods across Washington, D.C. has been a windfall for the city. Fueled by higher tax revenues and property values, the city is awash in construction cranes, new libraries, restaurants and retail, and more than 70 miles of bike lanes—all welcomed signs of gentrification in the nation’s capital.

Lost in the city’s waves of new amenities and newer, more affluent inhabitants, are the long-time Washingtonians who have been pushed out or who are fighting to stay in the city.

Shirley Williams is one of those residents, who decided to fight. For Williams, that fight came with debilitating consequences.

Williams said that she developed diabetes a year after she and fellow residents were displaced, for eight years, from their 54-unit garden-style apartment complex at 7th and Q Streets in the Shaw neighborhood. She has since returned. Now, there’s a new apartment building at 7th and Q named Jefferson Marketplace; an upscale pet store, a Thai restaurant and a French wine bar are located on the street level. Like her old neighborhood, Williams said that she’s not the same either.

Williams connects many of her health problems to the uncertainty of her housing situation, a rootlessness that has spanned nearly a decade.

“I’m on dialysis now; I can hardly get around,” said Williams, a mother of three grown children. “I wasn’t weak. I could walk down to those ONE DC meetings, but I can’t do that anymore. I’m pretty sure it affected my health; I lost my eyesight…can’t see anything anymore.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the displacement associated with gentrification has many health implications that contribute to disparities among special populations, including the poor, women, children, the elderly, and members of racial/ethnic minority groups.

“These special populations are at increased risk for the negative consequences of gentrification,” the CDC said. “Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.”

Dominic Moulden, a veteran activist, housing advocate and resource organizer for Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE DC), knows Williams well and spoke of her challenges and those faced by thousands of other residents who have been displaced by rising housing costs or who have decided to fight for their homes in court and on the streets. ONE DC is a grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of residents who are in danger of losing their homes.

Moulden said that he’s watched the city change in significant and seemingly all-encompassing ways, usually to the disadvantage of native Washingtonians.

“I’ve been here for 32 years and I organized on 14th and U Street in the ‘90s. If we talked then, I could have told you what was going to happen in every quadrant,” he said. “Our focus is on displacement—the economics of land and housing impact health and wellness, as people are moved around this chessboard.”

Moulden said that Williams’ story of declining health during a prolonged housing battle, is a familiar one.

“I’ve seen people get sick and die in the years [after they were] forced out of their homes and that includes mental health issues,” Moulden said.

In the mid-90s, according to Census data, the district had a population of 528,000 and by 2015, the population had climbed to 681,170. Washington has seen a net population gain of more than 70,000 people since the 2010 Census and more than 100,000 residents since the 2000 Census. In the mid-1990s, the city boasted a 72 percent Black population and in 2016, according to the Census, it now stands at 48 percent. To the chagrin of the city’s Black residents, “The Chocolate City,” has become a vanilla swirl, replete with dog parks, street cars, bike lanes and cobbled streets as physical evidence of the changing demographics.

Washington, D.C is one of the most expensive cities to live in anywhere in the United States. Million-dollar homes are commonplace in areas of the city like Kalorama and Congress Heights and it’s fairly certain that buyers would have to ante up hundreds of thousands for a home, apartment or townhouse. In 2015, the median household income in Washington, D.C. was $75,628, a 5.55 percent growth from the previous year.

Statistics from the U.S. Census, a combination of studies conducted and compiled by researchers at Georgetown University and an investigative series centering on gentrification by the nonprofit, independent news organization Truthout, estimates that more than 50,000 D.C. residents have fled the city, as housing costs spiraled out of reach. Washington has the second highest rents in the country and more than 50 percent of the city’s affordable housing stock has vanished since 2009.

Researchers, policymakers and physicians have only begun to scratch the surface of the effects of gentrification on residents who have lost their homes or those who refuse to leave their neighborhoods, who have chosen, instead, to do battle with wealthy landlords, real estate developers and newcomers. A number of reports and studies over the past year detail the scope and depth of the health effects caused by the dismantling of low- and middle-income neighborhoods and the displacement of residents, some of whom have lived in Washington for decades.

Maurice Jackson, a history professor at Georgetown University and the chairman of the DC Commission on African American Affairs and Christopher King, an assistant professor at the university’s School of Nursing and Health Studies (NHS), produced a report in 2016 that found that gentrification has had a major impact on the health and welfare of the city’s African American population.

Researchers reported that many of Washington’s long-time, Black residents, who remain in the city, have experienced increased stress and financial hardship, as the cost of living continues to rise.

King said that this form of “survival stress” can increase risks for or exacerbate chronic disease conditions.

“Native Washingtonians also recognize how their communities are changing, and that results in a loss of cultural identity,” King said, noting that some African Americans have been forced to leave the area even though their families have lived in the city for generations. “This dynamic can have a profound effect on mental health and the civic engagement [of city residents].”

Gentrification in Washington has produced tension and lingering resentment between Black and White residents—old and new.

Long-time residents have complained about newcomers who have lobbied to change the names of old neighborhoods, called the police to harass families sitting on their own stoops, and pushed city officials to ramp up parking enforcement, ticketing and towing churchgoers double-parked on Sundays—a custom in D.C. that has spanned generations. The stress and trauma associated with the city’s very real demographic and cultural shifts, not only affect where people live, but also how Washingtonians are living.

One area of particular concern to researchers and those in the medical community is the relationship between toxic stress and displacement. Experts like Amani Nuru-Jeter, a social epidemiologist at the University of California at Berkeley are studying the impact of stress on health disparities and outcomes. While Nuru-Jeter, Dr. Roberto Montenegro and other researchers are looking at the effects of racism and discrimination on the bodies of Blacks and Latinos, others are tying displacement to toxic stress, which many believe, is likely a precursor to a range of diseases that could afflict those who are being pushed out of the city or have already left.

Studies have connected a number of maladies to toxic stress, such as mental illness, substance abuse and behavioral problems, cancer, obesity, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, asthma, high blood pressure and heart disease, kidney disease, and gastro-intestinal problems.

Detrice Belt, a 33-year-old native Washingtonian and resident of Barry Farm, a public housing complex in Southeast, Washington, D.C. has been engaged in a six-year battle to stay in the community where she has lived for 20 years. She lives with her nine-year-old daughter, two pit bull terriers and a turtle. Belt vowed that she’s not leaving.

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“Housing is a big issue in D.C. Right now, current residents are moving out,” said Belt, a licensed dental assistant who’s also the chair of the Barry Farm Tenants’ Association. “This property has [over] 400 units, but now there are about 100 residents left. People are in shelters, some are in other public housing projects, scattered.”

Belt continued: “These [apartments] are bad, but not so bad that they have to be demolished. We want redevelopment, but we want the developer to do it while [we’re] here. They told me about the noise; that my lights may be cut off and other things, but I’m not moving, whatever comes.”

Miriam Machado-Luces/NNPA
A once-thriving community of more than 400 residents has been reduced to less than 100 as city officials prepare to build expensive, mixed-use housing that Barry Farm residents fear will force them out of their homes. (Miriam Machado-Luces/NNPA)

Barry Farm, located east of the Anacostia River—a natural divider between the city’s visible progress and neighborhoods of concentrated poverty—has been targeted by the DC Housing Authority and developers who seek to have the 432 public housing units demolished; in its place, developers want to build a 1,400-unit, multi-phase $400 million mixed-income housing. The plan is part of the city’s New Communities Initiative, a public-private urban revitalization partnership modeled after the federal government’s Hope VI program.

According to the Washington City Paper, in 2017, a group of Barry Farm residents and housing advocacy organization, Empower D.C., filed a 65-page, class-action lawsuit against the DC Housing Authority (DCHA), which manages the property, as well as its two private developer partners, A&R Development Corp. and nonprofit Preservation of Affordable Housing Inc.

Belt said that one of her great fears is that neither the DC Housing Authority nor the developers have given the remaining residents a written guarantee that they can return when the property is redeveloped. And the past is prologue, she said, because once public housing residents are displaced, few ever return.

“They changed the language from ‘guaranteed return’ to an ‘opportunity to return.’ Despite our concerns and questions, this is a done deal,” she said. “I’ve been going to redevelopment meetings for the past six years. I’ve been trying to hear the other side. I told councilmembers that people are stressed and don’t know their rights.”

Belt said that her ordeal has left her and other Barry Farm residents stressed out, worried and fearful of what the future holds.

“They have been using scare tactics, like putting up a notice on my door about my dogs,” Belt said. “Children’s Protective Services has been called on people here, the Department of Health on others. I was born and raised here. I’m fighting back. I’m not moving.”

This article was published as a part of a journalism project for the University of Southern California Center for Health Journalism’s National Fellowship. Follow Barrington on Twitter @bsalmondc.

Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon


Reporting from my own blog and followed by an article originally published in the Florida Phoenix, before the election.

Episode 1


Florida Phoenix

Quality Journalism for Critical Times

A Black man who could become Florida’s next governor

By Barrington Salmon

October 26, 2018

Andrew Gillum outside of the Tallahassee International Airport


In the 399 years that Black people have been in this country, only a handful of African Americans have been elected governor of a state.

2018 could be a watershed.

On Nov. 6, three African Americans are vying to be elected governors of their respective states: Stacey Abrams, who would be the first-ever female governor in Georgia; Ben Jealous in Maryland, and Andrew Gillum in Florida.

During the primary season, vaunted “experts” and prognosticators pegged the Florida race wrong. Polls proved to be wildly inaccurate and the numbers completely misread how well Gillum, Tallahassee’s mayor, would eventually fare in the primary. He won.

A part of the surprise result has to do with the polls themselves, but a larger issue is that pollsters very rarely bother to take the pulse of African Americans. So the enthusiasm and support that Gillum has among Black voters – who make up 33 percent of the Democratic base in Florida – flew under the radar.

There’s a particular type of energy Gillum’s race has ignited. Call it hope, genuine exhilaration and anticipation in African-American circles that a man, a Black man who grew up hard, who knows what it’s like to face deprivation and poverty, and someone who has struggled and persevered against the odds, could become Florida’s next governor.

Gillum, 39, is a rising star in Democratic political circles. He spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and was on Hillary Clinton’s short list for vice president. A who’s who of politicos and celebs support, endorse or have contributed to Gillum’s campaign.

In September, he was lauded and feted at the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., along with Abrams, a lawyer, businesswoman, politician and novelist, and Jealous, a civil rights leader and former president of the national NAACP.

Florida, like the rest of the country, is fractious — bubbling over with anger and deeply divided along jagged partisan lines. But it is perhaps the most important swing state in the country.

Gillum, Abrams, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Beto O’Rourke, Paulette Jordan, and Ilhan Omar have energized Dems in ways not seen in recent times.

Animated by Donald Trump himself, an alleged sexual abuser and a crass sexist and misogynist, as well as his agenda that is plundering resources needed by ordinary Americans, the Progressives are fighting for quality healthcare, a clean environment, decent jobs, and effective and sensible counter-measures to climate change — critical to states such as Florida.

This new crop of politicians is saving establishment Democrats from themselves.

For the past 20 years, Democratic leaders in Florida have chosen annoyingly mild, reductionist, milquetoast candidates who were a milder version of the Republicans they were running against.

And while Republicans fought with bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred abandon, Democrats looked confused, were too civil and hopelessly inclined to bring a stone to a gunfight.

But this year is different.

The progressive-fueled resistance is angry, frustrated and unafraid to stand up to the bullying, lies and bluster of the other side. They act as if there’s something to fight for. And there is.

New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker recently said that these midterm elections are the most consequential in his lifetime. He is not alone in thinking that.

The Trumpian/Republican narrative is a cheerless dystopian view of an America of white victimhood, where whites are under siege from marauding Black and Brown immigrant hordes who are taking their jobs, killing innocents and siphoning off resources they don’t deserve.

The administration harbors a deep hostility towards immigrants and Muslims, and equal amounts of antipathy towards women, Black and Brown people and members of the LGBTQ community.

It is enacting policies designed to drag the country back to the turn of the last century. Republican control of all branches of the federal government means unfettered power to erase, reverse or significantly alter women’s reproductive rights, more than five decades of hard-won Civil Rights gains and a measure of parity for women, while reintroducing the failed War on Drugs and mass incarceration.

Meanwhile, Progressives, Millennials and Liberals advocate their vision of a country of fairness; equality; quality healthcare; space for ethnic, cultural, gender and sexual diversity; a woman’s right to choose; an environment where Black people aren’t routinely brutalized and murdered by rogue cops; a living wage, decent salaries and benefits for workers; strong unions and humane working conditions for employees.

Nationally, a confluence of factors, including a surge of political grassroots activism, resistance to the odious policies emanating from the White House and record numbers of women – particularly Black women and women of color – has resulted in these groups and individuals not just mobilizing and organizing but also running for office. This groundswell has changed the face of the election landscape.

An added element is that sexual assault survivors and other women are incensed by the way Republicans handled the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the hostility and dismissiveness with which a gang of old white men dealt with women who accused the newly seated Associate Justice of sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

Many are promising to punish Republicans on November 6.

After 20 years of Republican control, Florida is poised, ripe for change. Gov. Rick Scott has piled up a dubious record over the past eight years, particularly in the areas of the environment, education and healthcare.

He loosened a raft of environmental regulations directly tied to the poisoning of the waters off Florida and the explosion of red tide and an algae bloom which has killed unknown numbers of fish and sea life.

He has routinely short-changed public education by siphoning off money for traditional schools and dumping it into school voucher programs and public charter schools run by private groups. As it relates to healthcare, Florida is considerably worse off than when Scott slid into office.

Sun Sentinel columnist Randy Schultz argues that the main reason for Florida’s poor performance is that Scott has refused to expand Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act. Intense opposition by Republicans to former President Barack Obama, and an aversion to the ACA, has fueled Scott’s unwillingness to accept billions of federal dollars to cover the costs of what is now 4.2 million uninsured people.

Gillum’s attempt to become Florida’s next governor has been overshadowed by an FBI investigation into city government. Although the Tallahassee mayor has said the FBI assured him he has not been the focus of the investigation, his opponent, former Congressman Ron DeSantis, has hammered Gillum with accusations of being corrupt, all of which Gillum has denied.

The issue of race has been the proverbial elephant in the room, with DeSantis not missing an opportunity to use Gillum’s color and ethnicity to scare off voters. Meanwhile, Gillum accuses the DeSantis campaign of highlighting the corruption investigation to reinforce negative stereotypes about Black men.

DeSantis, 40, has run a racialized, some call racist, campaign, saying on the first day out of the box that Floridians shouldn’t vote for Gillum and allow him to “monkey up” the state.

He claimed that race had no bearing on his use of the term and he has forcefully asserted several times that he will not bow down to the altar of political correctness or allow the media to smear him. To date, a Neo-Nazi group has distributed two sets of robocalls on DeSantis’s behalf, and DeSantis has scrambled to distance himself from the hate group.

In the final gubernatorial debate, the moderator pressed DeSantis on his tactics, which he denied, to which Gillum responded:

“Well, let me first say, my grandmother used to say that a hit dog will holler, and it hollered through this room. Mr. DeSantis, first of all, he has Neo-Nazis helping him throughout the state, has spoken at racist conferences, accepted a contribution and would not return it, from someone who referred to the former president of the US a Muslim N.I.G.G.E.R. When asked to return that money he said no. He’s using the money to now fund negative ads. I’m not saying Mr. DeSantis is a racist, I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist …”

One of Gillum’s campaign promises is to expand Medicaid coverage, although he won’t be able to do it without support from the Republican-dominated state Legislature. But if one or both of the state houses changes hands after the midterms, Gillum has an outside chance of reversing the tide.

Gillum also champions greater access to healthcare, a $15 minimum wage, and allocating more money to higher education and worker training. He supports a $1 billion investment in public schools that would be financed, in part, by increasing the corporate income tax and legalizing and taxing marijuana.

He wants to overhaul the state’s minimum sentencing guidelines and reform Florida’s bail system, which disproportionately affects poor defendants by having them languish in jail because they lack the money to pay for excessive cash bails.

Nov. 6 will be a collision of a vision of the past – as voiced by DeSantis, a Trump-endorsed Ivy League acolyte of the president – and the vision of the future envisioned by Gillum.

Gillum is regarded as the person who can help ordinary Floridians, of all colors and stripes, know that they finally have someone in their corner who’s more interested in bolstering the fortunes of ordinary folks than feathering the nests of corporations, lobbyists and the 1%.


Barrington Salmon

Liberation Journalist Barrington Salmon lived and wrote in Florida (Miami and Tallahassee) for almost 20 years. He is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications, including The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer. Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station. The Washington metro area has been Barrington’s home for 20 of the past 22 years, broken up by a two-year stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar. Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, BarringtonSalmonWrites.


Anger, pain, protests rock Pittsburgh after police killing of unarmed Black 17-year-old

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | Originally Published in The Final Call on June 26, 2018 – 11:03:09 AM

‘Lethal force should be an absolute last resort, not a first option’

Protestors cross the Roberto Clemente Bridge during a evening rush hour march that began in downtown Pittsburgh, June 22. They are protesting the killing of Antwon Rose Jr. who was fatally shot by a police officer seconds after he fled a traffic stop June 19, in the suburb of East Pittsburgh.

The city of Pittsburgh is on edge and boiling hot after an East Pittsburgh Police officer with a checkered past shot and killed an unarmed high school student after police stopped the vehicle the young man was in as a part of an investigation into an earlier shooting.

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said officers found two firearms on the floor of the car. He added that they found no weapons on the slain Black teenager. A bystander’s video of the June 19 shooting shows Antwon Rose, Jr. and an unnamed companion jumping out of the car and running away, and Antwon collapsing after being shot three times in the back by an officer identified as Michael H. Rosfeld, 30.

The funeral for the young man was held June 25 and some 200 people came out to show their respects and activists did not protest out of respect for the family’s mourning. His mother told ABC News, in an interview, that the police officer murdered her son.

Antwon’s death set off a series of protests across the Pittsburgh area that drew hundreds of demonstrators, many armed with “Black Lives Matter” signs and shouting “No Justice, No Peace.”

A death and demands for justice

Antwon Rose

Every day or night since the killing of the Woodland Hills High School honor student, angry, determined residents and groups including the Alliance for Police Accountability, NAACP and ACLU of Pennsylvania—seeking #JusticeforAntwon—have either locked down sections of  Interstate 376, the main thoroughfare of downtown Pittsburgh, blocked the Rachel Carson Bridge, protested at a Pittsburgh Pirates game, rallied at least twice at the East Pittsburgh Police Department and trooped to the Alleghany County Courthouse which houses the offices of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr.

And, a Pittsburgh activist said, students at several schools June 21 staged walkouts in silent protest of  what many in the city are calling the unjustified killing of a humble, affable and well-liked teenager.

Civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, who was hired by Antwon’s family to represent them, said he’s hoping that public pressure will force Mr. Zappala to charge Officer Rosfeld but he’s doubtful.

“If you use history as a guide, there is a low possibility that the D.A. will charge Rosfeld. He has a history of not prosecuting police officers regardless of what they have done,” Mr. Merritt told The Final Call during a June 22 interview. “I’ve come to represent the family because I do a lot of this work, especially in Texas where it’s been 50 years since a police officer has been indicted for murder.”

Mr. Merritt has been involved in a case in Texas where police officer Roy Oliver fired a rifle into a car with four Black teenagers driving away from him, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards. He said members of the community and legal and civil rights organizations applied significant political and economic pressure which led to Officer Oliver being fired and charged with murder. His trial is set to start this summer.

Tia Taylor, left, is comforted by her friend Jameira Mosely during a protest of the shooting death of Antwon Rose Jr. in Market Square, June 22, in Pittsburgh. Both attended school with Rose. Protesters demonstrated June 22 for a third day over the fatal police shooting in Pennsylvania of the unarmed Black teen fleeing a traffic stop as they sought to get the attention of a nation engrossed by the immigration debate, and to pressure officials to charge the officer.

The pressure is mounting on District Attorney Zappala with the protests and an announcement by the medical examiner, who ruled  Antwon’s death a homicide.

Under Pennsylvania law police officers are allowed to use deadly force to prevent someone from escaping arrest if  he or she has committed a forcible felony, is in possession of a deadly weapon or if that person has indicated he or she will endanger human life or inflict bodily injury if not arrested.

But there’s nothing that he’s learned so far that justifies an unarmed young man running away from the police and posing no danger to them, to be shot and killed, Mr. Merritt said.

The executive director of the ACLU of  Pennsylvania agreed, saying in a statement that it appears Officer Rosfeld “disregarded the basic humanity of this boy.”

“Fleeing from a scene does not give law enforcement the right to indiscriminately shoot young boys or anyone,” said Reggie Shuford. “No one, especially children, should ever fear death at the hands of police. Lethal force should be an absolute last resort, not a first option.”

In the days following the fatal shooting, “police sources” have sought to besmirch the name of the young man, leaking to local media that they have video of Antwon firing a gun and that forensic evidence shows gunshot residue on his hands.

“We expected Antwon to be smeared,” Mr. Merritt said. “It’s patently untrue and we’re calling out media for doing this, calling on them to stop spreading lies. Local law enforcement is engaged in spreading these falsehoods and they have been praising the death of Antwon on social media.”

“I haven’t been in situation where I’m so hard-pressed to find any negative on someone. Antwon was known for his generosity and his altruism. He volunteered to work on political campaigns, food banks and such and was known to hang at a skate park in the White part of town. He had crossover appeal. He played the saxophone and was a hockey player. His mom said he had an IQ of 120 and was already admitted to college. He was gifted and extremely intelligent.”

High school Principal Candee Nagy told a TribLive reporter that Antwon competed in academic competitions throughout high school.

“He was a very intelligent, well-mannered, respectful individual that worked hard to do his best,” she said. “He’s somebody you really recognized as a powerhouse, with the gift he had bestowed upon him as a young man.”

District officials said he scored high on his SAT test and was one English class shy of graduating.

Mr. Merritt said Antwon’s mother, Michelle Kenney, planned to have an open-casket funeral, reminiscent of Mamie Till, whose son Emmett was abducted and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by White men who beat him and tossed his body into a nearby river for allegedly whistling at a White woman.

Antwon Rose, 17-year-old boy who was fatally shot by police in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ms. Kenney granted ABC News an exclusive interview where she said that Officer Rosfeld “murdered my son in cold blood.”

“If he has a son, I pray his heart never has to hurt the way mine does,” Ms. Kenney said. “But I think he should pay for taking my son’s life. I really do.”

“My son is dead and I keep saying that, but he didn’t die by accident,” she said. “He didn’t fall off a cliff. He didn’t trip and bump his head. A cop killed him. The same person that should have protected him, the same person who I taught my son to respect and always have the most respect for, never be disrespectful, murdered my son.”

A rogue cop allowed to run free?

Shaun King, an investigative reporter for The Intercept and co-founder and lead organizer for the Justice PAC—which seeks to elect reform-minded district attorneys across the country—has been breaking news for the past several days about Officer Rosfeld.

On June 23, he posted a note on social media saying that a high-ranking official from the University of Pittsburgh confirmed that Off. Rosfeld was fired from the university in January after brutally assaulting a Black student and lying about it.

“That student was the son of the university chancellor,” Mr. King said. “The official told (me) that Rosfeld was a known menace on campus for years and had assaulted several Black students. But the school finally took action when the student was the son of the chancellor. He was sworn in at the East Pittsburgh Police Department and three hours later, he shot and killed Antwon Rose.”

East Pittsburgh Mayor Louis J. Payne told a reporter with the Tribune-Review that Off. Rosfeld had been sworn into the department a few hours before the shooting. Off. Rosfeld said in an interview two days after the shooting that he’s been a police officer since 2011, and worked with other area departments for eight years, including the University of Pittsburgh, Oakmont and Harmar Township. Off. Rosfeld is now on unpaid leave.

Mr. Merritt elaborated on the officer’s alleged past behavior.

“Rosfeld has a history of brutality. He beat students and falsified records,” the attorney charged. “It went unchecked until he assaulted the chancellor’s son. The chancellor pulled video records of the incident. Instead of charging him, they quietly fired him and allowed him to go elsewhere and continue his behavior. The University of  Pittsburgh bears some of the responsibility for what happened.”

Pittsburgh resident Bomani Howze said the Steel City is a tinderbox.

“It’s 360 degrees here, really hot,” said Mr. Howze, an investor and activist. “It’s hot for multiple reasons. As spring heats up, old beefs start to cook up. (Up and coming Rapper) Jimmy Wopo was killed in Hill District this week. He was about to be signed by Wiz Khalifa. All of this is happening right now.


Protesters chant “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” at motorcycle officers near the head of a line of vehicles stuck on Interstate 376 in Pittsburgh on June 21. The highway was shut down by the people protesting the East Pittsburgh police after the June 19 shooting death of Antwon Rose, a 17-year-old boy fatally shot by a police officer in Pennsylvania seconds after he fled a traffic stop. He did not pose a threat to anyone, a lawyer for the family of the teen said.

“You have misguided youth who are disconnected from the OGs. They’re not afraid and they’re carrying heavy artillery. A day or two later, law enforcement is on edge. Elected officials are fearful that a storm is going to blow out.”

Mr. Howze said elected officials are pressing law enforcement hard to keep a lid on the violence because they’re trying to persuade Amazon to bring its headquarters to the city. Politicians like the mayor are “responding with their interests,” the district attorney is standing for re-election and the public is very aware of the political calculus, he added.

Jasiri X, a Pittsburgh-born rapper and activist, said Black people in Pittsburgh are tired of being taken for granted.

“We walk through America with the understanding that we can be killed at any moment and not get justice,” he said. “Trayvon Martin’s mother got no justice, Michael Brown’s mother got no justice, Sandra Bland’s mother got no justice … We’re expected to just take it. The problem is, who else is expected to be peaceful when you shoot us?”

“I had an interview this morning (June 22) and I was asked how we can cool down the anger of the people—you should be upset, you should be outraged,” he said.

Pittsburgh cops and Blacks: Lingering distrust, antagonism

Pittsburgh-born, Washington, D.C. resident Jamila Bey left Pittsburgh in 2000 because she had determined that the city was no place for a Black person to live or to raise a child.

“Pittsburgh has a long and troubled history with police-involved shootings, and rarely has a police officer been held to account,” said Ms. Bey, a journalist, commentator and mother of a son. “What’s going on here is par for the course. This boy was a saint by all accounts. He was the preacher, the choir boy. He may not even have known what was going on when he got shot.”

“This child, this innocent child, with a bright, brilliant future has had his life cut short. All the mothers I’m in contact with are in despair because this is the kid who you would want as a 17 year old.”

Ms. Bey said she happened to be in Pittsburgh to visit her mother who had unexpectedly fallen ill and was in the hospital.

“I stopped in front of the courthouse and I estimate that there were about 1,500 people out there,” she told The Final Call in a June 20 interview. “We have ‘hunting and fishing cops’ who are back from Iraq and see Black people as the enemy. They live outside of the city and have no interest in the city or the people they serve. This is the pattern here in Pittsburgh.

“(But) people seem to be devoted to the idea that this isn’t about the cop who shot this boy but the system. All of us mothers are resolved that this will go beyond the protests. We need to hit this legislatively, change what they’re teaching at the police academy, for example. This D.A. has made a lot of Black people angry. He is not secure in his position.”

The city’s struggles to get a handle on this problem bear Ms. Bey out.

Pittsburgh is said to be the first big city police department to agree to a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1990s after federal investigators discovered a pattern and practice of police misconduct. The result was more resources, improved training and broader oversight of the myriad activities and operations among the ranks of the police. But Black Pittsburgh residents say police officers never stopped harassing, brutalizing, profiling and killing them with little oversight or accountability.

The issue of the police-involved killings of primarily unarmed Black men, women and children continues to roil the United States. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Korryn Gaines, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner and Natasha McKenna are just a few of the hundreds of Blacks who have died at the hands of the police or someone acting in that capacity. In almost every case, the individuals who pulled the trigger were not charged and served no time for the murders.

According to the Mapping Violence projectpolice in the U.S. killed 466 people in 2018. Law enforcement killed 1,147 people in 2017 with Blacks comprising 25 percent of those slain despite being only 13 percent of the population. Fox News notes that since the start of 2018, at least 45 law enforcement officers across the U.S. have died while on duty—with 27 of the deaths caused by gunfire. Various studies show that Blacks are nearly three times more likely than White Americans to be killed by police and are five times more likely than Whites to be killed while unarmed.

The cycle of shootings, outrage and district or states attorneys or grand juries opting not to press charges has fueled strident protests nationwide and equally vocal demands for change. In this case, several civil rights organizations are demanding that the attorney general of Pennsylvania handle the investigation into Antwon’s death.

A recent study illustrates that the wider Black community is affected by these killings. Researchers published a study in the Lancet Medical Journal which indicates that police violence has a direct effect on the mental health of  Black adults.

Celebrity hair stylist Fela Sekou was equally caustic when sharing his view of police-Black community relations.

“The relationship between minorities and White, Anglo Saxon Protestants is very hostile and tense,” said Mr. Sekou, who was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. “The police are very racist. They’re violent and are a threat to people. A lot of people don’t know it but it’s not just police, it’s the school system and the court system. They have no respect for African American men. Pittsburgh is worse than Tupelo, Mississippi. It’s so blatant there.”

He recalled as a 19-year-old how Pittsburgh police officers stopped him and two friends downtown because a White man had been robbed.

“The victim couldn’t identify us and the police got angry,” he recalled. “We were screaming about our rights and the situation escalated. They searched us and when I asked why we were being arrested, a Black cop came over and punched me in my face. I was beating him up and he used a billy club. We were arrested, the charges were dropped but even now at 46 years old, I have to defend myself (because they never cleared my record).”


About the Author

Liberation Journalist, Barrington Salmon lived and wrote in Florida (Miami and Tallahassee) for almost 20 years. He is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications, including The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer.  Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station. The Washington metro area has been Barrington’s home for 20 of the past 22 years, broken up by a two-year stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar.  Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon 

Angola Prison plaintiffs in federal lawsuit alleging medical neglect await verdict BY


Originally published in The Final Call on NOV 9, 2018 – 9:14:08 PM

This May 9, 2011 fi le photo, shows the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in West Feliciana Parish, La. U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson expressed frustration as he questioned why prison offi cials won’t spend roughly $1 million to install air conditioning on death row, since the state has already spent much more to fi ght this in court. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos

The Angola State Prison has earned the reputation of being the most notorious prison in Louisiana, which itself has the dubious distinction of being called the incarceration capital of the world.

The sprawling 18,000-acre prison complex called “The Farm” is bounded by the Mississippi River on three sides and located on land that was originally an 8,000-acre slave plantation in West Feliciana Parish, a remote region of Louisiana almost 200 miles from New Orleans.

The prison­—the largest maximum-security institution in the U.S.—houses about 6,400 men, 75 percent of them Black—and a staff of 1,800.

For years, those held behind bars have complained about the abysmal treatment of those seeking medical treatment by prison guards and staff. Because of who they are, and because of the deeply unbalanced power dynamic—these complaints were often ignored or not taken seriously. A day of reckoning could be on the horizon as a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of 6,000 people recently was presented in court.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Angola State Prison is notorious for the brutality of its past and the cruelty of its present, as scores of men are subjected to unnecessary suffering, and even death.

The lawsuit said prison officials lack an appropriate program to identify and remediate the range of problems. This directly contributes to the pervasive risk of severe harm—and the frequent manifestation of actual harm—that the incarcerated men consistently experience. The lawsuit also said the officials have subjective knowledge of their policies and practices, their inadequacies and the risk of serious harm.

“There is no question that defendants know their own policies, practices, and procedures; and there is no dispute that they know about the many patients who pass away or suffer adverse events,” the lawsuit said. “… But even beyond the obvious and pervasive nature of the deficiencies proven by Plaintiffs, defendants have repeatedly been warned of and acknowledged the various structural and clinical deficiencies that place class members at risk, without taking reasonable steps to eliminate that risk.”

State and prison officials have been aware for more than 25 years that their policies and practices expose inmates to a risk that they will receive inadequate health care.

“External investigations in 1991 and 1994 reported unconstitutional failures in the system, including most if not all of the problems that Plaintiffs have proven today: failure to properly assess, diagnose, or treat medical problems; unacceptable delays in treatment; inadequate staffing, both in number and training; and failure to follow-up or properly refer patients for further treatment,” the lawsuit added.

These findings were supplemented by later external reviews of Angola in 2009, by medical peer reviewers in 2012 and 2014, and by numerous warnings from individual medical personnel. Dr. Raman Singh, then the statewide medical director, observed in 2009 that the Department of Corrections was “already operating with bare minimum staff” and not adding employees could “lead to compromised health care delivery. …”

Officials cited budget cuts and austerity measures as the primary reason why the state has been unable to fulfill its “constitutional obligation to provide optimal health care to inmate population.”

Female prisoners working in a remote mountainous area of the Witch Fire past Santa Ysabel, California. Observers say prisoners perform in life threatening jobs with little or no medical or monetary compensation. Photos: Youtube

Defendants’ knowledge of the deficiencies in their practices and their disregard of the ongoing risks associated with them is established not only by clear warnings, but by their own words and the observations of medical providers with whom they worked, the plaintiffs said. On each of the issues at the heart of Plaintiffs’ claim, the evidence irrefutably shows Defendants’ awareness over the past several years. In the face of these several sources with knowledge of the dire state of the Angola medical system, did not act to protect patients from its risks. Their failure to take reasonable steps to eliminate these long-standing, pervasive failures establishes deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment. Defendants received repeated warnings about deficiencies over the past 25 years and prison officials had repeatedly been warned about the inadequate, harmful care they provided to patients within their care. These warnings came from the Department of Justice, from consultants that prison officials retained, from outside providers, and from Department of Corrections personnel themselves.

The 137-page lawsuit is a modern-day horror show of the system’s barbarity and the neglect and inhumane treatment visited on the men incarcerated at Angola. They include a man who suffered a stroke but was denied medical attention four different times, leaving him blind and paralyzed; another man who was denied access to a specialist for four years while his throat cancer advanced; and a blind man who was denied a cane for 16 years. Several of the plaintiffs have died since the case was filed, due in significant part to unconstitutional care.

Shannon Hurd is an example. He was serving a life sentence for stealing $14 after breaking into a house. He submitted sick call requests for years as he began losing weight—almost 100 pounds—and experiencing flu-like symptoms. His symptoms worsened, and he developed a pain in his side but doctors repeatedly dismissed his medical complaints. He wasn’t tested until late 2015, at which time his cancer had metastasized with tumors spreading to his brain and other parts of his body. He died in 2017 at the age of 42.

Prisoners learn auto mechanics at Angola prison. Proponents say inmates learn life skills while incarcerated, but many say the lack of medical benefits and fair wages put the inmates at a high risk to injury and job-related illness.

Kidney cancer is generally treatable if it’s caught early. This was not the case here. Mr. Hurd’s story is not an isolated tragedy but a symptom of prison officials’ chronic failure to provide adequate medical care to people incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, lawyers and plaintiffs said.

In another case, Alton Adams, another plaintiff who suffers from artery disease, began having problems with his right leg after arriving at Angola. He was told that he needed a stent to address his circulation problem. Instead, he developed a blood clot that led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee. Since then, he has had two more amputations that have brought his leg down to the mid-thigh. He is now having problems that could lead to an amputation of his left leg, too. A visiting doctor from New Orleans said he could not believe that Angola staff had missed the obvious infection that led to the amputations, which could have been avoided.

Prison officials used the men for the Angola Rodeo—the longest running prison rodeo in the U.S. —and several of them suffered a variety of injuries, including being kicked, thrown, trampled and suffering broken bones. Those who need medical attention must pay a $3 co-pay for sick calls and $6 for emergency calls which according to a special report by In These Times, netted the prison more than $192,000 over three years.

The men held at Angola make as little as four cents an hour for grueling fieldwork, meaning it could take 150 hours to pay off a single $6 co-pay for an emergency assessment. And while the prison is constitutionally obligated to care for patients who can’t afford the co-pay, that debt doesn’t disappear, the report’s authors said. “The bills stack up,” said Francis Brauner, a former inmate. “If you ever do get money, they take all that money to pay toward your medical bill. And if you don’t, and you leave prison, it follows you.”

All these and other complaints led to a group of incarcerated individuals filing a federal lawsuit seeking redress from the courts.

The case went to trial on October 9, ended a little more than three weeks later and both sides are awaiting the judge’s verdict. The lawsuit, which was filed against the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections in May 2015, describes the medical care provided at the Louisiana State Penitentiary—also known as Angola—as fundamentally and grossly deficient, and far below constitutional and statutory requirements. The inadequate health care at Angola has contributed to the fact that Louisiana has the highest rate of prison deaths per capita in the country, the lawyers and plaintiff said.

A federal judge certified the class action on behalf of all the men incarcerated at Angola in February. The outcome of the case will affect the lives of at least 6,000 people at the prison, said Mercedes Montagnes and Bruce Hamilton.

“After decades of neglect and ignored complaints, the people incarcerated at Angola were left with no choice but to seek the help of the courts,” said Ms. Montagnes, executive director of the Promise of Justice Initiative and lead counsel on the case. “People are suffering. People are dying. It is our sincerest hope that this suit will ensure that the state of Louisiana treats all its people with basic decency and in accordance with the Constitution. The only thing the patients at Angola are seeking in this suit is access to basic healthcare, which they can receive in no other way than through the state.”

“People don’t stop being human once the cell door closes behind them. Louisiana must do better; its citizens expect and deserve a government that upholds fundamental human rights,” said Mr. Hamilton, staff attorney for ACLU of Louisiana. “No judge would ever sentence someone to slow torture by an untreated medical condition, but, in effect, that is what is happening every single day in Louisiana. This legal action is the only way to fix this glaring failure.”

The plaintiffs are represented by The Promise of Justice Initiative, the ACLU of Louisiana, Advocacy Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the law firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll and attorney Jeffrey Dubner.

As the lawsuit details, Angola has a documented history of substandard medical care. In the 1990s, prompted by a class action lawsuit, the Department of Justice conducted an investigation and reported to the court that Angola “fails to recognize, diagnose, treat or monitor the serious medical needs of inmates.” The prison and plaintiffs reached an agreement in 1998 that put Angola under a temporary federal monitor.

The current lawsuit points out that many of the medical practices described by the plaintiffs echo those condemned by the Department of Justice 25 years ago, including delays in care, under qualified staff and a “malingering” rule that effectively punishes people for requesting medical assistance.

Frank Brauner was at Angola, serving time for a rape he has always insisted he was wrongfully charged. In several interviews, he spoke of suffering a back injury that left him paralyzed. Despite not being mobile, he was classified as dangerous and put in a bed in solitary confinement, without access to a wheelchair. Bedsores caused an infection which poisoned his lower body and it soon affected his heart and blood and he ended up having emergency surgery. Brauner told In These Times reporters that the surgery saved his life but left deep, gaping wounds that failed to heal. He spent the next 10 years fighting the prison for medical care.

“I started seeing that they don’t treat nobody,” he said. “You get hurt, you get sick, or you can’t produce for them no more in their fields or in the hobby shop. … They put you on a ward, on a bed and let you die.”

Cancer patients were treated no differently.

“They keep complaining about the same thing [but] the EMTs will just say, ‘Well you got a stomach virus, give him Pepto-Bismol, just give him something and get him out of here.’ If you go there too much, they’ll write you up for malingering. So then all of a sudden they decide to finally send him out, well, he’s already got Stage 3 cancer. Because they procrastinated and procrastinated, this guy’s dying.”

Those behind bars at Angola die at extremely high rates. In 2015, there were 58 deaths—more than one a week. That mortality rate—923 deaths per 100,000 prisoners—dwarfs the nationwide average in state prisons, which was 274 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 (the most recent year data was available), said Ridgeway and Quandt.

One factor is the large proportion of Angola’s prisoners serving life sentences—more than 65 percent—thanks to Louisiana’s draconian sentencing laws. … Twenty-five percent of Angola’s prisoners are 55 or older, compared to just 10 percent in state and federal prisons nationwide.

But it’s not just old men who are dying, they said. Last year, mortality rates at Angola were higher than the 2013 national averages for prisoners in every single age group over 25.

“These abysmal conditions have been especially harmful to people with disabilities, who have been systematically denied access to even the most basic accommodations as required by law,” said Jeffrey Dubner, co-lead counsel on the case. “We’re asking the court to order prison officials to stop endangering people’s lives and start fulfilling their obligation to provide adequate medical care and disability accommodations to the people at Angola.”

About the Author Barrington M. Salmon

Barrington Salmon, LiberationJournalist
Follow Barrington Salmon on his Facebook page @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon and Twitter @bsalmondc

Liberation Journalist, Barrington Salmon lived and wrote in Florida (Miami and Tallahassee) for almost 20 years. He is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications, including The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer. Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station. The Washington metro area has been Barrington’s home for 20 of the past 22 years, broken up by a two-year stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar.  Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, BarringtonSalmonWrites. 

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

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | Originally published in The Final Call on August 28, 2018 – 11:18:15 AM

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.”

Prison guards oversee prisoners working in one of the gardens at C.Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy, La., Aug. 8, 2010. Over 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 presssaid 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.”

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.

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.”

About the Author

Liberation Journalist Barrington Salmon is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications, including The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer.  Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station. The Washington metro area has been Barrington’s home for 20 of the past 22 years, broken up by a two-year stint in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar. 

Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon. 

Barrington Salmon




Blacks seek their own spaces in the tech world

BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | Originally published in The Final Call on May 23, 2018 – 11:09:01 AM


The explosion of digital technology in the U.S. and around the world is commonly described as the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  But civil rights advocates like Marc Morial, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Black legislators in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are again raising fears that in the midst of this tech boom, Silicon Valley’s stubborn resistance to diversity is barring Black Americans from enjoying the jobs, salaries and other benefits that tech jobs offer.

In the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2018, Mr. Morial, the organization’s president along with authors of the report spotlighted the paucity of Blacks among the ranks of the tech industry with a spotlight on Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is the home of one of the world’s largest tech economies.

The digital divide


While Blacks and Hispanics are avid consumers of digital technology, Mr. Morial said, they are grossly underrepresented in the digital workforce. According to statistics provided by the Kapor Center for Social Impact, in the U.S., the technology workforce is currently 90 percent White or Asian and 75 percent male.

A further breakdown reveals that nationwide, the industry is 74 percent male, 69 percent White and 21 percent Asian. In Silicon Valley, Blacks and Hispanics make up between three and six percent of workers, while women of color comprise one percent or less of the workforce. Officials at the center note that these groups are represented across other industries at much higher rates consistent with their proportion of the overall U.S. population, which is more than 50 percent female, 13 percent Black and almost 18 percent Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 estimates.

“African Americans have proven to be eager, early adopters of technology, leading influencers and content creators in social media—as evidenced by the power of ‘Black Twitter,’” Mr. Morial said in the executive summary of the report. “Yet, nearly one-third of low-income families with school-aged children have no access to broadband at home. Lacking this vital tool, many students are left with few realistic options to access the internet, leaving them digitally undeveloped and vulnerable to low earning outcomes.”

Following a May 10 press conference to roll out the CBC’s Job and Justice Act of 2018 on Capitol Hill, Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) said he had ordered two studies, one from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Government Accountability Office which illustrate the dismal numbers.

“These reports show the widespread disparity in employment (of African Americans),” he told The Final Call. “If hiring was proportionate to the numbers of qualified applicants, we wouldn’t see this problem.”

black-tech-world_05-29-2018b.jpgRep. Scott said he’s troubled because the underrepresentation of Blacks extends to non-tech jobs too, in areas such as human resources, business development, sales, customer support and receptionist positions. But lawmakers, he said, do have certain laws to ameliorate the problem, such as the Civil Rights Act and other provisions that prohibit racial discrimination and exclusion based on race.

“There’s no excuse for not having a workforce that is reflective of the community,” said Rep. Scott, who is serving his 13th term representing Virginia’s Third District and is the ranking member on the Committee on Education and workforce.

Despite pressure from people like Rev. Jackson four years ago, which produced ardent promises from tech giants and other firms in Silicon Valley to make a significant dent in the numbers of Blacks and women in their ranks, research continues to show Silicon Valley’s race gap is getting worse, not better.

Blacks in technology exist

Washington metropolitan area tech entrepreneur Joycelyn Tate is intimately familiar with the problem. She is managing director at Tate Strategies where she develops advocacy strategies for non-profit and public service organizations as well as co-founder of MakeIT4Change Innovation Hub, an organization that provides creative space and resources for youth and adults to work together to develop technology for social change.

“It’s the good ol’ boy network which relies on people they know and are familiar with when they’re looking to hire,” said Ms. Tate, who describes herself as a staunch advocate for laws and policies that advance entrepreneurship and employment for women and minorities in the tech industry. “They go to Stanford, MIT and not to Howard University and other institutions to look for employees.” She said there are a number of reasons for the tech industry’s acute underrepresentation of Black women within its employment ranks.

“For years, tech industry executives have painted the picture of a lack of talent and supply as the reason for their dearth of Black women employees,” said Ms. Tate, senior technology policy advisor for the Black Women’s Roundtable at the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “They claim that there are not enough Black women getting advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as the reason for their dismal record of hiring Black women.  While it is true that, for a variety of reasons, Black women have a lower college graduation rate in the STEM disciplines than other groups, Black women with college degrees in STEM do exist,” she continued.

blackgirls-code_hack-hood_code2040_05-29-2018.jpg“In 2012, Black women earned a total of 684 STEM degrees. But based on the tech industry’s poor track record of hiring Black women, these college graduates are looking at employment options in sectors that have been more welcoming like the oil, gas and automotive industries. Tech companies are not tapping this pool of talent because they are not looking in the right places—assuming that they are looking at all.”


DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of KweliTV, an online streaming service that airs content catering to Black American, Caribbean, African and Latino audiences, elaborated.

KweliTV.jpg“We’re an afterthought. People think that we don’t get money because we lack experience. We have to have so much more traction and connections—White companies have so much more advantages,” said Ms. Spencer, a budding entrepreneur and graduate of Jackson State University. “Only 0.2 percent of Black women with tech businesses get investor moneyAnd only 20-plus Black women have ever raised $1 million in funding. That’s horrific. It’s racism and sexism but it’s also connections. In Silicon Valley, they say they want diversity but they’re looking at the same places— Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale, alums of PayPal, AirBNB, then they’ll write them a check.”

“I went to Jackson State. I’ve had conversations and people have never heard of an HBCU. I was taken aback. If you have to explain an HBCU, you’re in trouble. That’s the reality we’re living with.”

For the past several years, the CBC—through its #CBCTECH2020 initiative—has been goading tech CEOs to prioritize, opening their doors wider to allow in more Black Americans.

Making moves and legislative fixes

Black people haven’t been sitting still. Stories abound about the Hidden Genius Project, Black Girls Code, Black Women in Computing, CODE2040, Hack the Hood and Y Combinator, and advocates like Erica Joy Baker and Viola Thompson.

Ms. Tate cited Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital and Gayle Jennings O’Bryne as just two of the growing number of Blacks and women who are grabbing ahold of their destinies in the tech world.

Ms. Hamilton is founder and managing partner of what’s called a seed-stage investment fund that has invested in 80 companies, all of which have at least one founder who is a woman, person of color, or LGBTQ. Backstage Capital has a diverse portfolio and manages a fund of more than $5 million. According to Quartz, an online global magazine, Ms. Hamilton is launching a $36 million fund “that invests only in Black female founders, $1 million at a time.”

Ms. Jennings-O’Byrne is a principal of Maya Ventures Partners and CEO of The Prometheus Exchange, a collective of social change makers. Maya Ventures Partners seeks to build a diversity-based venture capital ecosystem.

Earlier this month, senior members of the body visited Silicon Valley and met with officials from Twitter, Apple, AirBNB and other companies to push them to provide more transparency and accountability and coax them to improve their hiring practices and significantly boost the underrepresentation of African American engineers, non-tech staff and entrepreneurs in the tech industry.

Twitter says 3.4 percent  of its employees were Black in 2017—2.2 percent of them in technical jobs. In 2016, 3 percent of its workforce was Black. Facebook’s Black workforce stands at 3 percent and Uber comes in at a paltry 2.6 percent of its corporate staff being Black, up from one percent in 2017.

CBC members also criticized tech leaders for the slow pace of change reflected in the lack of diversity in the workforce, upper management and board of directors.

“The tech industry has created extraordinary wealth and opportunity, but a growing number of communities and Black employees are being left out of the growth,” said Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) in an interview in Black Enterprise. “Our goal for this trip is to bridge the gap by urging companies to use the power they have generated to empower workers and invest in their communities so every employee can thrive.”

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) made it clear that they will play hardball if the tech gap continues to be such a problem.  “I’m talking about using the power that our voters have given us to produce legislation,” she reportedly said during a Lyft forum. “I’m not urging. I’m not encouraging. I’m about to hit some people across the head with a hammer.”

The lawmakers indicate they plan to ensure that tech companies who have government contracts adhere to federal diversity rules; expand the provisions of the Community Reinvestment Act to cover the tech industry and require financial institutions to meet the needs of lower-income communities. That way, these companies can build the talent capacity, support start-ups and assist those with promise seeking to get a foot in the door, as well contribute or underwrite public works projects in underserved

They will also require the EEOC to collect additional tech industry data that includes not just breakouts of the race or ethnicity of employees but also promotions, salaries and investments.

When asked, economist and Howard University Professor William E. Spriggs scoffed at the use of the term “tech gap.”

“The first thing is that it’s not a gap of skilled people. We should use the terms ‘discrimination of Silicon Valley’, ‘segregation of Silicon Valley’ or ‘Whites only in Silicon Valley,”’ said Dr. Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and professor and former chairman of Howard University’s  Department of Economics. “I can’t tell you how bad it is when we use the term ‘gap.’ It takes away all urgency. It’s not a skills gap. It has nothing to do with today. The reality is that they discriminate badly.

“The DMV (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia metro area) has as many companies as Silicon Valley but the Black technology employment rate is 20 percent here. Why is there only two percent employment in Silicon Valley? It’s discrimination. GOOGLE is the  number one search engine and they claim that they can’t find people sitting in front of them. We shouldn’t allow them in Silicon Valley to get away. There has to be sanctions against Silicon Valley. We have to come up with strategies and leverage through the government or economically. If we tolerate this, it’s on us,” he said.

KweliTV’s  Ms. Spencer said life as a start-up and trying to raise money is a daily grind with an assortment of challenges such as rejection and being underestimated, but with vision, audacity and perseverance, she’s achieving her dream, saying she wouldn’t have it any other way. The key to breakthroughs by Black people is to raise and pool their considerable resources.

“I want to give back because I don’t want other people to go through what I went through,” she said. “Black Angels (investors) have to raise money. Studies show that Black women are more likely to start businesses and can be successful if we have resources to scale. We need to be the ones driving to make change. We have to pool our resources and invest.”

Both Ms. Tate and Freada Kapor Klein, a founding partner at the Oakland-based venture company Kapor Capital, social policy researcher and philanthropist, agree that it is in these tech companies’ best interest to employ Blacks and other people of color as the numbers of non-Whites in the U.S. grow.

“A lot of venture capitalists recognize the business case for funding Black women,” said Ms. Tate. “If major tech industries continue to ignore the expertise, skills and perspectives of African Americans, they do so at their peril. They look on diversity and inclusion as a human resources issue rather than something critical to their future growth.”

About the Author
Liberation Journalist Barrington Salmon is a 2017 Annenberg National Fellow (University of Southern California) who currently freelances for several publications – The Final Call, Atlanta Black Star, the National Newspaper Publishers Association and The Washington Informer.  Salmon writes on a variety of topics in the nation’s capital and can often be heard on WPFW, DC’s Pacifica public radio station.  A London-born Jamaican, Barrington has traveled widely to locales including Ghana, Israel, Italy, Greece, El Salvador, Amsterdam, China, Nepal and Zanzibar.  Connect with Barrington on his video blog, Speak Freely with Barrington Salmon + follow him on Twitter @bsalmondc and on his Facebook page, @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon. 


Not Your Brother – Black Christians challenge the racism, hypocrisy of White Christian evangelicals

Originally published in The Final Call  on September 12, 2018 – 4:27:40 PM

WASHINGTON—Twenty-four-years ago, Horatio Fenton and his family became members of a non-denominational church in southern New Jersey that became their spiritual home. Mr. Fenton, who serves as an elder at the church, said over the years, the couple forged a deep spiritual connection and developed friendships with fellow congregants.

Black pastors convened recently in a national effort to fight back against Trump administration policies they argue are hostile toward Blacks and people of color. Photo: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

Everything appeared to be fine, he said, until Donald Trump became president.

“Trump has caused division in every institution and in families everywhere in the U.S.,” Mr. Fenton said soberly. “He has caused division across the board, across all spectrums. My stance is that I go to church to worship and fellowship. What has happened is that the fellowship is now tainted with regards to people’s political views, which has caused a divide. Personal relationships have been broken. We’re just not as close. In one instance, people sent out emails about welfare claiming that the majority of those on welfare is Black, which happens to be a lie. It was circulated by people who should know better.”

Pastors from the Las Vegas area pray with Republican presidential candidate
Donald Trump during a visit to the International Church of Las Vegas, and
International Christian Academy, Oct. 5, 2016, in Las Vegas.
Photo: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

“The church is no place for that type of material. I spoke to the person who sent it and he apologized. I didn’t know this person held such a view. Before there was a Trump, they (White parishioners) were more cautious in their speech. They were more covert but they have become emboldened and have revealed their true selves. I find it difficult to associate or fellowship with such people.”

Mr. Fenton said he wonders how White Christians and evangelicals who profess to follow Jesus Christ and the tenets of the Bible are so comfortable supporting a man who is open and unashamed about his support of White nationalists and an agenda that promotes racism and discrimination and xenophobia.

“Trump has used the n-word. How come they don’t condemn him? How come there’s silence on this? How can they support a person who supports White supremacy? Racism has no room in Christianity. That’s not what Christianity looks like,” Mr. Fenton said.

Polls taken during Trump’s reign have consistently shown the support of White evangelicals to be north of 80 percent, despite his numerous affairs, inveterate lies, and coarse unchristian-like behavior such as boasting to then Access Hollywood co-host Billy Bush during a hot mic moment about grabbing women’s genitals and being able to kiss and grab them because he’s a “celebrity.”

The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, has been an unquestioned supporter of the president.


Members of the Africa Methodist Episcopal church gathered in Washington, D.C. Sept. 6-7 for the “Call to Conscience: Forward to Action,” to mobilize leading up to the mid-term elections and beyond in response to Trump administration policies. Photo: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

According to the New Yorker magazine, “Franklin Graham has no such qualms about giving his full-throated support to the President. An early advocate of Trump’s candidacy, he has remained stalwart even as scandals have piled up.” Mr. Graham told the New Yorker staff writer Eliza Griswold that Trump’s critics have forgotten that “he’s our President. If he succeeds, you’re going to benefit.”

Of Mr. Trump’s many personal scandals, Mr. Graham says only, “I hope we all learn from mistakes and get better … .  As human beings, we’re all flawed, including Franklin Graham.”

Mr. Graham was never as magnanimous to former President Bill Clinton and his failings, and he helped fan the Birther lie that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya, saying repeatedly that he thought the 44th president was a Muslim.

It is clear, several Black Christian ministers said, that Mr. Franklin and his other evangelical cohorts made a deal with the Devil in the form of Trump to pursue their shared political agendas, including reversing Roe vs. Wade or a woman’s right to choose, and putting as many far-right jurists on the Supreme and lower courts as possible.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins said another element plays very heavily in what’s happening in the country: Race.

Participant during recent gathering by Black pastoral leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Race is really the dividing line. Race and an understanding of social justice,” said Rev. Harkins, senior vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York and a former advisor to President Obama. “One of the key issues is tackling the issue of race. In the White church, there is hesitation to look at and have a substantial conversation around social justice. And in much of Black churches, it’s the understanding of that reality which binds you to the faith you hold onto.”

“We have not tackled the Original Sin of slavery in full measure. What happens is a lot of White people are saying slavery is in the past and that they didn’t own slaves, but if you have the advantage of Whiteness, you’re a beneficiary.”

It is clear, Rev. Harkins asserted, that the actions of certain White Christians in general, and White evangelicals in particular, that their actions “come out of racism.”

“I think one of the reasons you see what’s going on now is that many people understand that the White culture will not be the dominant culture for much longer. You’re seeing the death pangs of people who see the America of an established hierarchy and White control fading. That’s in many people’s minds. This has been exacerbated by Trump. He has exploited those fears and made this a weapon. He knows how to keep the flames burning. MAGA is make America a White, majority Christian country again.”

“I think personally, for the remainder of my life, I will never be able to ever take seriously the evangelical branch unless there’s an amazing apology of some type. They have delegitimized themselves by supporting Trump. I feel he speaks into those fears and gives them the encouragement they need.”

Hundreds of pastoral leaders and members of African Methodist Episcopal churches gathered Sept. 6 in Lafayette Park across from the White House to lambast the Trump administration. Their presence marked the inception of the Call to Conscience: Forward to Action, a national effort to fight back against this administration and its hostile policies being visited on Blacks and people of color and to mobilize the vote in 2018 and beyond. A succession of speakers, including Pastor Jamal Bryant of Baltimore’s Empowerment Temple AME Church, delivered scathing and fiery denunciations.

There was a gathering in Lafayette Park across the street from the White House organized by the African Methodist Episcopal churches. Photos: Courtesy of Daryl Taylor 6th District AME Church

“We stand in solidarity with the football players who would dare to take a knee,” he thundered. “We stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, who thought the church wouldn’t support them. We criticize the environmental racism that has produced the crisis in Flint, Mich. Eighteen months ago, you chanted to lock up Hillary Clinton. Eighteen months later, we tell you that you should resign. Just do it! Just do it!”

Bishop Reginald Jackson, president of the Council of AME Bishops, said during a Sept. 7 press conference at Metropolitan AME Church in downtown D.C., that the Black church had fallen short in its responsibility to the Black community.

“The Black church has, historically, been the conscience of the nation. Unfortunately, for the past 25 years, we have not lived up to that,” he said. “The greatest period of growth was when the civil rights movement was active. When we stopped being socially relevant, we stopped growing.”

Consequently, Bishop Jackson said, a generation of young people have little connection to the church. The Call to Conscience, he added, is a way to resist the Trump agenda, but more importantly, to reengage with young people and teach them the importance and power of the ballot box.

“In this new generation, the average age of Blacks in the U.S. is 31. Most weren’t alive when Dr. Martin Luther King was leading the movement. They’re saying, ‘don’t tell me to vote, give me a reason to vote,’ ” he explained.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Reynolds, an award-winning journalist, agreed with Bishop Jackson’s assessment. She said she laments the direction Mr. Trump has taken the country and worries about if the Black church is responding too late to what she sees as an existential crisis for the United States and for Black Americans.

“My frustration is that what White evangelicals have embraced is beyond politics. It’s a sin,” said Rev. Reynolds, an ordained minister, an author and co-author of a memoir, Coretta Scott King: My Life, My Love, My Legacy. “They tolerate kids in cages and use the Bible to substantiate and tolerate evil. (Trump) is creating a climate of hate. Republicans or Democrats, whatever race you are, it has to be peace.”

“We have a constitutional and moral crisis. I have two thoughts from Bob Woodward’s and Omarosa’s books, that we have an unsteady person in office who could be insane. He’s not dumb, though. He is the master of deception. And if this touches his family, he will start a war. That’s my fear. Secondly, he is the first president who not only hates Blacks but is using policies for ethnic cleansing—he has made us the ‘other,’ deemed us unpatriotic, called football players SOBs, said we come from shithole countries. We are in a terrible place. I think about it every day. I’m terribly frustrated and upset even though this is the media’s finest hour, especially Black media.”

Adding to Rev. Reynold’s concerns are descriptions of Mr. Trump by psychologists, psychiatrists and other critics as being unstable, impulsive, reckless, ill-informed and wholly unsuited to hold high office.

The Rev. Willie Wilson said the divide between Black and White Christians constitutes a major split but he’s philosophical about what he sees playing out across the country. This type of backlash has happened before, he said.

For the past several years, Rev. Wilson, the senior pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in southeast Washington, D.C. has argued—much as the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II and the Rev. Graylan Hagler have—that America is in the midst of a Third Reconstruction.

“We see the exact parallels. Between 1866 and 1891, 40-plus Black men were voted to Congress. There has always been the fear that Blacks would take over,” said Rev. Wilson, who counts Minister Louis Farrakhan as a dear friend, and who has welcomed the Minister to his church every year since 1977. “What you have now is that a majority of children will be Black and Brown in the coming years. There is a fear of them taking over the country. (Whites) fear genetic annihilation. Seeing interracial couples on TV heightens those fears and as change comes, closer and closer, they get more desperate. That is what Donald Trump is using. He makes Whites think Blacks and immigrants are the source of their problems.”

After Reconstruction, a White backlash led to the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan which terrorized Black people and their White allies, murdering, lynching and burning as a way to reassert control. And as a part of the deal to become president, Rutherford Hayes removed Union troops from the South, leading to the tightening of segregation and a bloody and vicious clampdown on Blacks socially, politically and economically.

Revs. Reynolds and Harkins echoed Rev. Wilson, saying that in 2018, America is witnessing a fundamental shift in its demographics which has prompted a latter-day White backlash, verbal and physical attacks against Black and Brown people, and the introduction of extremist policies from the Trump administration designed to erode hard-earned civil rights and other gains, while shoring up White power and control.

“Those who embrace the Make America Great Again slogan are willing to work hard and cheat to undermine what is evolving in America,” said Rev. Barber in an earlier interview. “This is White hegemony and White nationalism strengthened by enormous wealth.”

Rev. Harkins said he sees conservative Christians’ unblinking loyalty as bizarre.

“Trump gets a pass because he’s more valuable to them. They are like Jacob, selling his soul for some porridge,” he said. “But I’m still optimistic, still faithful that we will endure this. This is nothing new, we have the playbook. We need to outmaneuver them. We have the capacity. I really do believe that on the other side of this, the potential is for leadership and voices to really rise and move us in a different direction although we’ll always have the smallness and bitterness of people like Trump.”

Mr. Fenton agreed.

Mr. Fenton—a federal employee for more than 20 years and union organizer in the public sector for 15 of those years—said he is heartened by the reality that “nothing lasts forever and this is a cycle we’re going through.”

He said he has been busy organizing and working to mobilize people in an effort to drive both a Do-Nothing Congress and Trump out of office.

“The rise of Donald Trump was a reaction to America having its first Black president,” he said. “The majority didn’t think it was possible and they’re trying to guarantee it won’t happen again but it’s too late. They need to know that we’re not going back, will never go back to being subjected to White superiority because it doesn’t exist.”

About Barrington Salmon

Barrington Salmon is a freelance journalist currently writing for more than 6 different newspapers and online newswires throughout the globe. He has been writing for 34 years and has more than 11,000 stories to his credit. Dubbed a Liberation Journalist by famed filmmaker Catherine Murphy, Barrington writes on a range of issues, including gentrification, civil and human rights, racism, sexism, immigration and criminal justice.  Connect with Barrington Salmon on Facebook @SpeakFreelywithBarringtonSalmon and on Twitter @bsalmondc.







Spying, Targeting and Arresting: The secret police war on Black activists


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A protester rides his bike in front of a police line in Baltimore, April 27, 2015.

WASHINGTON—Since 2014, the federal government and instruments of the state have been spying on Black activists who’ve been engaged in a palette of civil disobedience methods including marches, sit-ins, blocking highways and thoroughfares.

Prompted by police killings of primarily unarmed Black men, women and children by law enforcement, the activists, since 2013, have been disrupting everyday life for lawmakers, law enforcement and others in cities as varied as Oakland, Seattle, Ferguson, Mo., New York and Washington, D.C., to bring attention to the need to confront and eliminate institutional racism, injustice and police brutality.

And despite the fact that the constitution protects the right to protest and exercise free speech, federal law enforcement, state and local police have been waging a secret war against Black activists, said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change.

Chicago Black Friday protest

“We launched this effort in July 2016 after hearing a growing number of troubling stories from Black activists following the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, stories about activists being followed around grocery stores, identified and arrested before events, along with many other suspicious developments,” Mr. Robinson said. “The federal government, often in coordination with local police departments across the country, continues to use its expanded authority, dating from the beginning of the ‘War on Terror,’ to demonize and intimidate Black activists—people who are rightly demanding that our country be more just—through surveillance and harassment.”

In March of 2018, Color Of Change, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Milton Kramer Law Clinic at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law filed a motion in the Southern District Court of New York, asking the court to order the Department of Homeland Security to release a blacked-out memo referred to in government documents as the “Race Paper.”

This motion followed a July 2016, Freedom of Information Act request filed by these groups with the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain information on the surveillance and monitoring of Black protesters exercising their First Amendment rights at protests across the country from August 2014 to the present, said Mr. Robinson.

The request was specifically directed at the monitoring of protest activity and public gatherings whose subject matter or theme involved police brutality, criminal justice, racial inequalities, or the movement for Black lives.

In May of 2017, the Southern District Court ordered the FBI and DHS to produce the documents and authorities turned over almost 7,000 pages of related documents, some of which were fully or partially redacted. Documents released in November and March included alarming revelations about the extent of anti-Black surveillance at these agencies as well as a “Race Paper.”

“The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are at war with Black activists,” said Mr. Robinson, who heads the nation’s largest online racial justice organization which helps people respond effectively to injustices. “The documents we’ve forced the federal government to release expose how these agencies are demonizing and intimidating Black activists,” he said.

Human rights attorney Barbara R. Arnwine said the government activities are a clear indication that COINTELPRO has continued to prey on Black activists and their allies.

“For Whites, Black racial struggles are militant and dangerous. This idea is persistent in federal law enforcement,” said Ms. Arnwine, president and founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition. “On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, this is another powerful reminder that our struggles for justice remain dangerous. As activists, we must be conscious that the belief to exercise the right to live safely and justly is seen by Whites as dangerous. This sentiment needs to be destroyed. Our people have to be cognizant of this reality. Federal and state forces have reacted to a false narrative.”

“The Black Panther Party was destroyed and Dr. Martin Luther King was targeted. Protesters set themselves up for serious vulnerability. The fight for struggle and liberation is threatening to White structure which seeks to continue to dominate people of color.”

“This really proves that COINTELPRO never went away,” she continued. “We have to demand that surveillance not be engaged by law enforcement. It’s very important for law enforcement agencies be required to screen out White supremacy. What we’re seeing is the deliberate opposition by those who have infiltrated law enforcement. The failure of the FBI to concentrate on this infiltration is troubling.”

J. Edgar Hoover

In 1968, J. Edgar Hoover labeled the Black Panther Party a “hate group” and said he was convinced that they represented “without question … the greatest threat to internal security of the country.” He then launched a thorough, targeted campaign of surveillance, intimidation, exploitation, harassment, and violence to destroy the organization. It was part of illegal domestic spying, infiltration, disinformation and destruction of Black groups and leaders under the agency’s COINTELPRO, or Counterintelligence Program. The program targeted respectable as well as radical Blacks, the civil rights movement and the Black Power Movement as well as Muslims, Christians, Black Nationalists or pacifists.

FBI director Hoover was concerned that a Black Messiah not emerge and went about the business of killing anything positive that Black groups produced and to keep the groups from uniting or gaining respectability. COINTELPRO discredited political organizations he deemed subversive or threatening.

Agents in COINTELPRO targeted groups and individuals including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, American Indian Movement, the Nation of Islam, the Black Panther Party, SCLC, SNCC, the U.S. Communist Party, feminist organizations, opponents of the Vietnam War, independence movements, the Young Lords, Black-owned bookstores and leftist organizations.

Mr. Robinson noted that one FBI email chain showed the agency maintains 24-hour surveillance of some Black activists: The agent noted that a fresh team had arrived to relieve an FBI surveillance unit parked outside a particular activist’s home. Another set of documents showed how the FBI performed a detailed search of the vehicle records of someone who was either visiting an activist or happened to be parked in front of that activist’s house, essentially criminalizing a person simply for associating with that activist.

“Black and Brown activists and the public in general should not be left to speculate as to why DHS prepared a document called the ‘Race Paper,’ circulated multiple versions of it, and called for in-person meetings to discuss its contents, but now fights to keep every word from seeing the light of day,” said Omar Farah, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “But given the long-standing and unconstitutional pattern of state surveillance of Black-led political movements, it bears repeating that FOIA is about transparency, not protecting government agencies from embarrassment.”

“New York attorney Abraham ‘Abi’ Hassan said the public should not be surprised at what the federal government and law enforcement are doing,” the constitutional rights lawyer continued.

“Absolutely, this happens all the time. As technology becomes cheaper and cheaper and easier and the legal community has not caught up with capacity and with the increase in fear and hype, that makes it easier and easier to surveille people,” said Mr. Hassan, co-founder of the Black Movement Law Project. “So many people’s information is online and the unholy trinity of private sector data extraction, the over-hyped fear of all thing foreign and surveillance make it easy to track people.”

“Technology is a double-edged sword. Technology facilitates liberation and education but it matters who controls the technology. Power stands with the government and the corporate sector which caters to the needs of those in control,” he added.

Mr. Hassan said surveillance and monitoring should not deter those seeking to challenge institutional racism and other social ills.

“People have to make their call about how they choose to protest,” he said. “I’m not trying to discourage anyone but they should be aware of the reality of what police have done. They should not stop expressing themselves politically.”

Mr. Farah, in an interview with Janine Jackson, said that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are using “predictive intelligence” in an attempt to predict criminality.

“That’s one of the most pressing fears that I have, in speculating about what might actually be behind these redactions,” he said. “Some of the emails that accompanied the transmission of the ‘Race Paper’ within DHS I&A, the Intelligence and Analysis Office, included references to things like ‘drivers’ and ‘indicators.’ ”

“Now, I have to be perfectly honest: We just don’t know what the document says. But those terms, to me, in the absence of any other information, suggest ways in which law enforcement and intelligence agencies within the government have in the past tried to use indicators that would help them predict criminality or behavior,” he said.

“Those things, of course, are invariably based on totally bunk analytical frameworks that ascribe behavioral tendencies to certain protected classes of people–by race, and oftentimes by religion, we’ve seen, in a national security context. Those are things that the public needs to be aware are potential uses of this Race Paper, and it certainly deserves full scrutiny.”

Mr. Farah said he’s concerned because “we’ve seen it in stop and frisk; we’ve seen it in counter-terror-related policing, and it’s one of the things that made the documents jump out at us, amongst the thousands of documents we got.”

The Rev. Graylan Hagler, who took a break from planning the New Poor People’s Campaign with the Rev. William J. Barber, II, suspects the Trump administration has ramped up the monitoring and surveillance.

“Black Lives Matter was all over the streets, all over the country. Then this administration came in and people retreated,” said Rev. Hagler, senior pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. “Their effort to undermine the efforts of those on the streets harkens back to COINTELPRO. But we can’t retreat. You have to live out your issues in the public because that’s your best protection. It ensures that people can see what you’re doing,” said the pastor.

“We cannot just step back. I don’t think this is a replay of the Civil Rights era. We’re in a historic moment. The contradiction of this country is revealed in a real way. We have gotten complacent. They thought we had succeeded under President Obama. We assumed that White supremacy was gone, that virulent racism was gone. But all it did was to change form and assume a different type of energy. None of this has gone away.”

Rev. Hagler said Blacks have the technology to organize and mobilize.

“We have to build our own power politics and engage in disruption of the system. We must organize people not to get gravy. We must participate in transformational not transactional politics. The political system has to go through radical reform in its political and economic output,” he said.

Mr. Robinson agreed about the need to continue to confront the tyranny of the federal government.

“Black communities know all too well how poisonous this kind of surveillance and intimidation is for social justice movements. During the civil rights era, agents with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program vigorously sought to discredit and destroy Black leaders and movements while they did nothing to address the injustices our communities were protesting,” he said. “We can’t allow the FBI to essentially operationalize COINTELPRO for the 21st century without a fight.”

“Up until recently, we’ve known very little about the government’s surveillance of our communities. But, by forcing the disclosure of more information about these surveillance efforts, including our demand today for the full and unredacted Race Paper, we can better understand these attacks on Black activism and fight to prevent a new generation of Black activists from demonization, incarceration, intimidation, and punishment,” he concluded.

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