Where Is My Black Body Safe in America?

July 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Sandra Bland

Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Like so many African American women, myself included, Sandra Bland’s death, resulting from police brutality is not new news. The national attention it’s receiving is, however.

The reality of unarmed African American women being beaten, profiled, sexually violated and murdered by law enforcement officials with alarming regularity is too often ignored – especially with the focus of police brutality on African American males.

And when gender identity and sexual orientation come into play, the treatment by police can be harsher. For example, my spouse, who would drive her new BMW (a vehicle cops believe is stolen if a black male is behind the wheel) to and from work, was stopped suspiciously too often for the classic case of “driving while black.” And when the Cambridge cops realized she’s a woman, and a lesbian one at that, their unbridled homophobia surfaced. My spouse now takes the bus or walks to work as much as she can due to the trauma from the constant shakedowns.

A new report and campaign called “Say Her Name” addresses the lack of reporting, documenting, and accounting for the violations and death of African American women and girls at the hand of law enforcement officials.

Just last July, Marlene Pinnock’s, 51, beating by California Highway Patrol officer Daniel Andrew was captured by a passing driver and spread widely on both internet and television. With Andrew straddling Pinnock on the ground and pummeling her with his fist, Pinnock told CBS News “He was trying to beat me to death….take my life away. For no reason. I did nothing to him.”

While it is not shocking news that African American women are arrested more often than white women in any given city across the country, what is shocking is the rate at which we are.

For example, a new report from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice reveals that while African American women in San Francisco comprise of approximately 5.8 percent of the city’s female population, they make up 47 percent of female arrests. And these arrests too often result in death.

African American sisters like Rekia Boyd (March 2012, Chicago), Kimberlee ­Randle-King (September 2014, St. Louis), and Natasha McKenna (April 2015, Fairfax County, Virginia), to name just a few, are lives cut too short at the hands of law enforcement officials. While the country was reeling from the news of Bland’s death of July 13th, 18-year-old Kindra Chapman of Alabama was found dead in her jail cell following day.

Oddly, Randle-King’s, Bland’s and now Chapman’s death are all explained away as “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a form of suicide extremely uncommon among African Americans given our not-to-distant relationship with this country’s history of lynching. And while African American women comprise the largest demographic group of females incarcerated, statistics reveal that black women committing suicide is the lowest of all groups, and hanging is not our method of choice.

The perceptions and stereotypes of African American women—combative, mouthy, not deferential enough and “angry black woman”—can sadly turn into deadly action as we see with Bland. Bland’s crime is what’s described as “contempt of cop.” She wasn’t obsequious or subservient enough when the officer asked her to extinguish her cigarette. And for something as minor as a traffic signal violation, the incident escalated out of control. But when the dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African-American voices about our pains, fears, vulnerabilities our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So, too, is our suffering.

When Bland was found hanging from a noose made of plastic bags in her Waller County jail cell, the coroner’s report corroborated the claim stating there were no obvious signs of such a violent struggle. But like Bland’s family and friends, I, too, cry out foul play. And it’s because of Waller County’s long and boastful history for keeping blacks in their place, and lynching was the preferred method.

I posit that if Bland did not commit suicide then clearly it was a lynching—a reality in 2015 too harsh and hard to fathom, even in a remote and still racially segregated corner of Texas.

But Waller County, which is less than an hour north of Houston, was a county notorious for lynching, and old habits die hard, if they die at all. The Equal Justice Initiative states that African Americans were lynched disproportionately higher in Waller County than in any other county in the state between 1877 and 1950. The memories of family and friends lynched still lives on in the collective oral history of Waller County’s African American community. “In this county, they’ve been hanging and killing Negroes since the Civil War.” an old buddy of Bland’s, Holice Cook, told the Washington Post.

When Bland tweeted on April 8th “AT FIRST THEY USED A NOOSE, NOW ALL THEY DO IS SHOOT #BlackLivesMatter #SandySpeaks,” she, too, could not fathom such act.

But with the recent deaths of Randle-King’s, Chapman’s and Bland’s there’s a pattern evolving, one in which sadly we cannot conclusively hang up the thought of lynching for good.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe of Cambridge is a syndicated religion columnist and Huffington Post blogger. Rev. Monroe is also weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment.

Removing The Confederate Flag Is Not A Victory, It’s An Icebreaker

July 14, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest editorial by Emmett G. Price, III

Now that the confederate battle flag has been successfully removed from the South Carolina State House can we get back to the real work of healing our fractured, fragmented and frayed nation?

Although South Carolina’s senate easily cleared the 2/3 majority with a 37-3 vote in favor of removing the flag, the House of Representatives took a different course of action. Wednesday’s debate, lasting over 12 hours, included some interesting filibustering tactics by Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens) who is opposed to removing the flag. Ultimately, with a 94-20 vote the Representatives passed the senate’s bill and with the stroke of her pen, Governor Nikki Haley, who until recently staunchly opposed the removal of the flag, removed the flag.

The removal of the flag and the tangential debate over heritage vs. hate is not a culminating sign of victory, in fact, thinking such is a greater insult than the flag’s presence as a representation of all South Carolinians for the past 54 years. The presence of the flag remains a clear reminder of South Carolinian lawmaker’s objection to national civil rights legislation during the 1960s; legislation that not all South Carolinians opposed. The major issue with the presence of the Confederate Battle Flag at the State House is the flag’s past as a representation of racist ideologies.

The initial incarnation of the flag, nicknamed “stars and bars,” was first flown in 1861 and was redesigned a number of times in subsequent years. The current battle flag was actually made popular during Governor Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. Under the short-lived political party, States’ Rights Democratic Party (also known as the Dixiecrats) Thurmond ran on a platform that was pro-segregation, anti-miscegenation and focused on protecting “the southern way of life.” Campaigners and campaign related events donned the confederate battle flag as one of their representative emblems.

The battle flag was initially raised over the State House in 1961 to commemorate the inaugural battle of the civil war at Fort Sumter. Thirty nine years later, as a result of the Heritage Act, the flag was moved to a separate flagpole next to a memorial in honor of fallen Confederate soldiers leaving South Carolina’s state flag and “Old Glory,” the flag of the United States of America, flying above the State House dome.

Over the years there have been numerous campaigns, initiatives and attempts to have the flag removed from the State House grounds. It is unfortunate that it took the death of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight prayer warriors of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to stimulate a local conversation with national impact. Let it be known that their death did not bring about a race war, but a recommitment to the pledge that we all know so well. A pledge to an indivisible nation, one with the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

Now that the flag is down, can we get back to the real work of engaging in sustained conversations on race, race relations and racial reconciliation? If that is too much to ask let us return to the unfinished work of the founding patriarchs, to provide equal access to “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The removal of the flag is not the victory; it is the icebreaker.

Emmett PriceEmmett G. Price III, Ph.D. is a pastor, professor and weekly contributor to WGBH’s Boston Public Radio “All Revved Up” segment. He is the author of Hip Hop Culture and editor of several works including The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture: Toward Bridging the Generational Divide. Follow him on Twitter.

A Road Map Beyond Black History Month

February 20, 2015 at 1:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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bb_flag_1_6_2012Guest editorial by Rev. Irene Monroe

Black History Month (which kicked off on Feb. 1) became a national annual observance in 1926. The goal of the month is to honor and celebrate the achievements of African-Americans.

If Dr. Carter Woodson, the Father of Black History, were alive today, he would be proud of the tenacity of the African American community. It speaks volumes about our survival here on this American soil, after centuries of slavery, decades of lynching and years of racial profiling.

However, for decades now, Black History Month has not broached the topic of the socio-political construction of white privilege.

There’s a reason why.

During Black History Month in 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder received scathing criticism for his speech on race. His critics said the tone and tenor of the speech was confrontational and accusatory.

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot,” Holder said, “in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.”

Many communities of color contest that white people—straight or LGBTQ—show no real invested interest in engaging in this country’s needed dialogue on race. While many whites have confessed their aversion to such a dialogue, stating that while a cultural defense of “white guilt” plays a role in their reticence, so too does their cultural fear of “black rage” for inadvertently saying the wrong thing.

It’s a polemic that has been avoided because of the politics of political correctness as well as how any discussion on race, no matter who’s stirring the conversation—a rabid racist, the president or Attorney General Eric Holder—invariably inflame our emotions more that inform our faculties.

Ironically, or tragically, the aversion to a conversation about race not only continues to harm people of color, but it also harms whites as well.

In her recent book “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” Cambridge author Debby Irving’s wrote the following:

“I can think of no bigger misstep in American history than the invention and perpetuation of the idea of white superiority. It allows white children to believe they are exceptional and entitled while allowing children of color to believe they are inferior and less deserving….Unless adults understand racism, they will, as I did, unknowingly teach it to their children.”

On one hand we have the dominate culture’s continued indelicate dance of white privilege and single-issue platforms which thwart coalition building with communities of color. On the other we have some people of color dismissing the notion that white marginalized and struggling groups (white women, LGBTQ, the poor) may have something to offer communities of color in terms of advice and shared (not same) experiences.

Both hands are right. And both hands are wrong. The only way forward it to keep talking about race. But how do we make our way through the current tangle of misguided good intentions and valid suspicions?

My answer: past harms need to be redressed.

For example, the killing of unarmed black males has awakened the movement. “Black Lives Matter” has taken to the streets.

Sadly, civil rights struggles in this country—black, women, and gay—have primarily been understood and demonstrated as tribal and unconnected rather than intersectional and interdependent of each other. But that is a false assumption.

When we look at how we moved forward on the issue of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ activists remember that an African-American woman named Mildred Loving set the precedent for marriage equality. Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Her crime was this country’s once racial and gender obsession—interracial marriage. Married to a white man, Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s ‘Racial Integrity Act of 1924.’

For many years I taught a college-level course titled “Power and Privilege,” exploring how many of our stereotypes about people whom we perceive as being different invades our lives without much conscious deliberation on our part. Issues of race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, age and ability, among others, were considered, and how such distinctions often lead to an inequitable distribution of political power, social well-being, and the resources available to individual members of society.

On the syllabus I laid out the rules regarding classroom interaction:
1. We will address our colleagues in our classroom by name.
2. We will listen to one another—patiently, carefully—assuming that each one of us is always doing the best that s/he can. We will speak thoughtfully. We will speak in the first person.
3. Although our disagreements may be vigorous, they will not be conducted in a win-lose manner. We will take care that all participants are given the opportunity to engage in the conversation.
4. We will own our assumptions, our conclusions, and their implications. We will be open to another’s intellectual growth and change.
5. We cannot be blamed for misinformation. We have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.
6. We each have an obligation to actively combat stereotypes so that we can begin to eradicate the biases which prevent us from envisioning the well being of us all.

As we celebrate Black History Month, 2015, in what is clearly not the post-racial era many had hoped for, I wish as a nation we begin an honest talk about race.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the power of righteous anger

January 18, 2015 at 10:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Kevin C. Peterson

As we celebrate the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday this weekend its difficult to say exactly what he would be angry about. But he’d be angry.

Yes, it’s accurate to describe King as an “apostle of love” because of the gospel of non-violence he preached. King obsessively sought the “beloved community” which was rooted in his commitment to peace and pacifism.

He would say: “Non-violent resistance is not for cowards. It is not a quiet, passive acceptance of evil. One is passive and non-violent physically, but very active spiritually, always seeking ways to persuade the opponent of advantages to the way of love, cooperation, and peace.”

If he were alive today, King would be 86–a lion in winter ignored by most. A national holiday would not exist in his name. The glow from the great marches and the noble pursuits he followed would be faded national memories.

But King would likely still be on fire: He would be disappointed by the state of the nation on race relations. He would oppose our U.S. foreign policy that relies so heavily on drone strikes. And he would decry our country’s uneven economy that has resulted in a class crisis and a bloated oligarchy.

During this weekend’s reflections on King, many will evoke his famous “I Have A Dream” speech where he evoked the grandeur President Lincoln and wrapped the aspiration of the American people around symbols of fairness, opportunities and the hope that the present generation of black Americans would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Ironically, if he was alive today, King would reject such historical romanticizing on a speech he made decades ago.

He would point to the irony that 50 years after the struggle in Selma for voting rights–where Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian minister from Roxbury (Boston, MA), was murdered– there are ongoing battles across the South where voter ID laws and redistricting suppress the electoral power of blacks and the poor.

King would certainly oppose the police murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He would evoke the spirit of “hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe.” But more than this, he would challenge — with exacting moral authority — the remaining vestiges of institutionalized racism that grip our society.

Perhaps King’s most lasting legacy was his criticism of the persistent “evils” which continue to plague American progress.

In 1967 he said: “I am disappointed with our failure to deal… with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism.”

For all his preaching about peace, King’s passion–his smoldering anger about injustice–would be as apt today as it was when he walked the streets of America.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s expansive dream

January 18, 2015 at 9:53 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Guest opinion by Rev. Irene Monroe

Martin Luther King’s actual birthday is January 15th, and I believe if MLK were alive today he would be well pleased with Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma.”

Many people working for justice today stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr and what he achieved in Selma. But I believe King’s vision of justice is often gravely limited and misunderstood. Too many people thought then, and continue to think, that King’s statements regarding justice were only about race and the African-American community. We fail to see how King’s vision of inclusion and community is far wider that we might have once imagined. And his vision always included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For King, justice was more than a racial issue, more than a legal or moral issue. Justice was a human issue. And this was evident in King’s passionate concern about a wide range of concerns: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place,” King once told a racially mixed audience. “Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.”

Moral leadership played a profound role in the justice work that King did. He argued that true moral leadership must involve itself in the situations of all who are damned, disinherited, disrespected and dispossessed, and moral leadership must be part of a participatory government that is feverishly working to dismantle the existing discriminatory laws that truncate full participation in the fight to advance democracy. And surely part of our job, in keeping King’s dream alive, is to also work to dismantle discriminatory laws and dehumanizing structures that we see young people now taking to the street to protest about across the country.

But if King were among us today, he would say that it is not enough just to look outside ourselves to see the places where society is broken. It is not enough to talk about institutions and workplaces that fracture and separate people based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We must also look at the ways that we ourselves manifest these bigotries, how we are the very ones who uphold and are part of these institutions and workplaces.

Often, we find that these institutions and workplaces are broken, dysfunctional and wounded in the very same ways that we are. The structures we have created are mirrors not of who we want to be, but who we really are.

King would remind each of us that we cannot heal the world if we have not healed ourselves. So perhaps the greatest task, and the most difficult work we must do in light of King’s teachings, is to heal ourselves. And this work must be done in relationship with our justice work in the world.
In “A Farewell to Arms,” Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks us all, but some of us grow strong in those broken places. King’s teachings invites us to grow strong in our broken places – not only to mend the sin-sick world in which we live in, but also to mend the sin-sick world that we carry around within us. And we can only do that if we are willing to look both inward and outward, healing ourselves of the bigotry, biases and the demons that chip away at our efforts to work toward justice in this world. And our differences have been used to divide us instead of uniting us, so consequently we reside in a society were human brokenness, human isolation and human betrayal are played out every day.

I know that the struggle against racism that King talked about is only legitimate if I am also fighting anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism – not only out in the world but also in myself. Otherwise, I am creating an ongoing cycle of abuse that goes on unexamined and unaccounted for.
We are foolish if we think we can heal the world and not ourselves. And we delude ourselves if we think that King was only talking about the woundedness of institutional racism, and not the personal wounds we all carry as human beings.

Ironically, our culture of woundedness and victimization has bonded us together in brokenness. The sharing of worlds to depict and honor our pain has created a new language of intimacy, a bonding ritual that allows us to talk across and among our pains. In exploring our common wounds, we sometimes feel more able to find the trust and the understanding that eludes us as “healthy” people.
When we bond in these unhealthy ways we miss opportunities in ourselves for moral leadership, and to work collaboratively with others to effect change in seemingly small ways that eventually lead to big outcomes.

Both Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. were leaders in the Montgomery bus boycott in challenging Alabama’s Jim Crow laws. Both were working together for a desired outcome, and they could not have done it without the other.

Had Rosa Parks not sat down by refusing her seat to a white man that day on the bus in December 1955, King could not have gotten up to promulgate a social gospel, which catapulted the civil rights movement.

Each year, I mark the Martin Luther King holiday by re-examining myself in light of King’s teachings. And in so doing, I try to uncover not only the ways in which the world breaks me, but also how it breaks other people. That keeps us fractured instead of united toward a common goal – a multicultural democracy.

I believe that when we use our gifts in the service of others as King has taught us we then shift the paradigm of personal brokenness to personal healing. We also shift the paradigm of looking for moral leadership from outside of ourselves to within ourselves; thus, realizing we are not only the agents of change in society, but also the moral leaders we have been looking for.

Our job, therefore, in keeping King’s dream alive is to remember that our longing for social justice is also inextricably tied to our longing for personal healing.

Rev. Irene MonroeRev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. Rev. Monroe can also be heard every Monday on Boston Public Radio, WGBH 89.7. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes – “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies.

Opinions expressed in the guest editorials are solely those of the author.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? …Now

September 12, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who's Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Lonnie Farmer, Julia Duffy, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Meredith Forlenza in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Todd Kreidler’s compelling family comedy Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner directed by David Esbjornson, playing Sept. 5 – Oct. 5, 2014. Photo: Paul Marotta

Guest review by Kevin C. Peterson

Against the political backdrop of a dashing, brilliant black president, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the racial crisis now roiling in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of unarmed Michael Brown by a local white police officer, the themes and tropes that comprise Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—which premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston this week–seem absurdly lame and unforgivingly naive.

Originally released as a movie in 1967 to critical acclaim, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was also widely popular, featuring Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as white ultra-liberal parents who face a moral and racial reckoning when confronted with the “situation” that their daughter was on the verge of marrying a black man–played in the film sensationally by Sidney Poitier.

The current cast performing in Boston is excellent, led by Malcolm-Jamal Warner (Theo, from The Cosby Show, playing the pliant Dr. John Prentice), Will Lyman and Julia Duffy portraying Matt and Christina Drayton, the parents of Prentice’s fiancée, Joanna Drayton (Meredith Forlenza) and Patrick Shea, the grog-loving, but soulfully insightful Monsignor Ryan.

Each character alternatively gives the play superb moments that are lighthearted, grim, then sometimes earnestly introspective–reflecting the racial realism of the sexual taboos of the time.

The ensemble sparkles generally but is made more radiant by Lynda Gravatt, who plays the maid, Matilda Binks, the moral epicenter of this story. Gravatt’s protean talent brings to this production all of the spiritual and psychological gravitas of what it then meant to be Negro, female and American–the pangs of love and hate, servitude and dignity, bitterness, promise, and no-nonsense racial conservatism, that stresses family, continuity and tradition.

But mostly Matilda signifies–like Dilsey in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury or Aunt Ester Tyler in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, the hopeful recognition that our humanity is ever waiting for opportunities to bloom, a careful optimism that, despite the country’s many tragic, racial sins, there is space for redemption for those on both sides of the aisle.

The issue of interracial marriage was all the rage at the time of film’s release. During its production, 17 states deemed interracial marriage a crime.

Decades later, this is now an archaic matter layered over and made obsolete by the elimination of anti-miscegenation laws and the emergence of an integrated national popular culture that has made aesthetic and cross-racial erotic choices sometimes simply a peculiarity of taste.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner remains an important literary artifact mainly because it reminds the carefully attentive clear insight into how hard the task is of achieving a racial democracy. This reality is made so clear as we simply look at neighborhood apartheid patterns that persist as an embarrassing American social feature.

The play, (which runs at the Huntington through October 5th) is good nostalgic theater that possesses moments that will evoke laughter and even raise high the irony that the guests at dinner at the White House every night currently are black.

But for Americans today–including Bostonians–who continue to take race seriously, who acutely understand the persistence of racial supremacy, this is a theater production that will also evoke some sadness.

Kevin PetersonKevin C. Peterson is a senior fellow at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at UMass Boston and a democracy activist.

Should More States Require Racial Impact Statements for New Laws?

July 31, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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By Maggie Clark, staff writer for Stateline

Most states evaluate new legislation for how it might affect the economy or the environment, but what about measuring a law’s effect on minorities?

Earlier this month, Oregon became the third state to require racial impact statements for any changes to state criminal laws or sentencing codes. Any new criminal justice proposal must be evaluated if at least one member of each party requests a report. The report, produced by a sentencing commission or legislative analyst, must show how a proposed law could have consequences for sentencing, probation or parole policies affecting minorities disproportionately, and that information is shared with lawmakers before they vote on the bill.

Iowa and Connecticut require racial impact statements before lawmakers can vote on any new criminal laws, and Minnesota’s sentencing commission regularly drafts racial impact statements for new legislation.

Attention to racial bias in the criminal justice system has been growing. In May, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights  began a national review to determine if controversial self-defense laws, known as “stand your ground” laws, promote racial bias.

These laws are on the books in at least 21 states and gained national attention after the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. Martin was an unarmed black teenager killed by neighborhood-watch volunteer George Zimmerman.

More states are considering requiring minority impact statements in the wake of Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict and the recent Supreme Court decision ending the federal preclearance requirement for election law changes in states with a history of voter discrimination, said Wayne Ford, a former Iowa state representative. Sponsor of the nation’s first racial impact statement bill, which passed in Iowa in 2008, Ford is in talks with lawmakers from 29 states interested in adopting racial impact statements.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that minority impact legislation has national, historic implications in regard to enactment and expansion of ‘stand your ground’ legislation,” said Ford. “Its scope can be expanded to make legislators and the public aware of the potential effects of ‘voter suppression’ legislation, too.”

Lawmakers in Oregon were motivated to enact their legislation by reports of disproportionate numbers of minorities in the child welfare system and in state prison.

“These racial and ethnic disparities suggest that we are using state resources inefficiently and ineffectively,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Gallegos, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. He was referring to statistics showing that African Americans make up less than 2 percent of Oregon’s population, but 9 percent of the state’s prison population.

Similar statistics convinced Iowa to become the first state to adopt minority impact statements.  In a scathing report published in 2007, researchers from The Sentencing Project, a national advocacy group which highlights racial disparities in the criminal justice system, found that Iowa had the nation’s highest racial disparity in prison populations:  African-Americans account for 24 percent of Iowa’s prison population, but only 2 percent of the state’s population.

Those numbers made Iowa lawmakers eager to act. “We did not want to be recognized as the nation’s leader in the incarceration of black men,” Ford said. Both chambers passed the minority impact statement bill nearly unanimously.

Racial impact statements aren’t a panacea, however. Even though Iowa has required them for more than four years, the state still has wide racial disparities in its justice system. The state has the worst racial disparity in the U.S. in marijuana arrests, according to an ACLU study. Blacks are more than eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though usage is about even, according to researchers.

Minnesota, which also uses racial impact statements although not required by law, ranked third behind Iowa in the ACLU report, with blacks more than seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Still, the statements are a helpful tool for lawmakers to evaluate outcomes of new legislation, said Nicole Porter, advocacy director at The Sentencing Project.
“We don’t claim that racial impact statements will resolve all disparities, but it will allow lawmakers to be intentional about the effects of the laws they enact,” Porter said.

Reprinted from Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Rosa Parks: A National Day of Courage

February 4, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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In commemoration of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday, Detroit Public Television and The Henry Ford Museum are presenting A National Day of Courage: a full day of performances, speakers and tributes (livestream below.)   In 2010, TIME Magazine called Rosa Parks one of the 25 most powerful women of the past century.

Relevant links:
National Day of Courage
Rosa Parks, Eyes on the Prize (American Experience/WGBH)

Friday News & Notes: November 2, 2012

November 2, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Editor: Valerie Linson

M. Gertrude Godvin School, Walnut Avenue, Roxbury, MA circa 19th century. The building is currently the home of the National Center of Afro American Artists.
(City of Boston Archives, via Flickr)

 

The Cleveland Uppercut, Lil Reese and camera phone savagery
Akiba Solomon, Colorlines.com, October 29, 2012
In my neck of the online woods, two violent camera phone videos have been making the rounds and sparking disturbing reactions about if and when it’s OK for a man to strike a black woman.

The first video, popularly known as “The Uppercut,” shows a Cleveland bus driver later identified as Artis Hughes, 59, arguing with passenger Shi’dea Lane, 25, for several stops. Witnesses claim that Lane struck and spit on Hughes, provoking the 22-year employee to punch the woman in her face and physically throw her off the bus. When an unseen passenger screams, “That’s a female,” Hughes retorts, “I don’t care! She want to be a man? I’ma treat you like a man.” Hughes has been suspended and charged with assault.
Read more…

National Civil Rights Museum to open balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot
Agence France Presse, November 2, 2012

The motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee where US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968 is being opened to the public, a spokeswoman said Friday.

It is the first time that visitors to the erstwhile Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, will be able to stand on the very spot outside Room 306 where King was gunned down by sniper James Earl Ray.
Read more…

The African American debate on voting rights
Jamila Aisha Brown, Guardian.uk.com, September 25, 2012

Not voting in the age of Obama has become almost a taboo subject among African Americans. After record black voter turnout helped elect the nation’s first black president in 2008, the decision not to vote is regarded by many as an affront to the ancestors who died and activists who bled to exercise this right.

They are not worth the color if they don’t vote. They oughta give us their color back. Their African-American credentials should be snatched if they don’t vote,” proclaimed an impassioned Representative Emanuel Cleaver (Democrat, Missouri) in his address to the 42nd annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation before the “voting rights and new age discrimination” panel.
Read more…

Small Wonders: Winning images from Nikon’s 2012 Small World Photo Micrography Competition
Washington Post, November 2, 2012
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Yes, you can criticize Obama and not be racist
Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post, October 31, 2012
I’ve long argued that Obama’s most ardent supporters should not ascribe racial motives to the president’s critics when none exist. Doing so undermines their argument and the ability to call out real racism — explicit and implicit — when it happens. And at the height of the tea party movement, I made a point of separating those who had genuine concerns about the direction of the country and its mounting debt from the right-wing extremists who latched onto the conservative movement.
Read more…

 

A walk around the web…

October 2, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Picking up headlines from around the web…
Editor: Valerie Linson

Random image from my office because I like the colors…

 

Obama, Romney face similar debate test: Staying cool under fire
By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink, TheHill.com – 10/02/12
President Obama and Mitt Romney face a similar test heading into Wednesday night’s presidential debate: staying cool while under your opponent’s fire.

At their first debate in Denver — when tens of millions of voters will tune in to see the competitors clash in Denver — each candidate will have to do his best to keep calm despite the other’s best efforts.
Read the entire article here…

7 of History’s Most Racist Political Ads
The Root, 10/2/2012
This election has produced its own share of memorable ads, among them one that is being touted as potentially effective by some, but racially charged by others. The controversial Romney campaign ad attempts to depict President Obama as the welfare president.

Whether or not the ad is appealing to racism in the electorate may be up for debate, but there’s no doubt that is a timeworn strategy in American politics. Plenty of campaign ads over the years have been undeniably racist. The Root looks at the worst of the worst, in no particular order.
Read entire article here…

Pennsylvania Voter ID Law Ruling: Judge Halts Enforcement Of Law For Election
Marc Levy, The Huffington Post, 10/2/2012
A judge is postponing Pennsylvania’s tough new voter identification requirement, ordering that it not be enforced in the presidential election.

Tuesday’s ruling comes just five weeks before the election. An appeal is possible. The 6-month-old law requires each voter to show a valid photo ID.

Democrats and groups including the AARP and NAACP mounted a furious opposition to a law Republicans say is necessary to prevent election fraud. Critics have accused Republicans of using old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics to steal the White House and have highlighted stories of registered voters struggling to get a state photo ID.
Read entire article here…

Can Social Media Kill Homophobia?
Michael Arceneaux, Ebony, 10/2/1012
Recently, like everyone else of color who has ever written anything online, I was sent a study from the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta in Canada chronicling the various forms of homophobia found on social media.
Highlighting how pervasive anti-gay sentiments remain, the study revealed that the word “faggot” and all its variations have been used over 2.5 million times on Twitter. Those variants include words and phrases like “dyke” (300,000 tweets), “no homo” (800,000 tweets) and the increasingly proper “so gay” (800,000 tweets).
Read entire article here…

Everything you need to know about Elizabeth Warren’s claim of Native American heritage
Washington Post (The Fact Checker) Josh Hicks, 9/28/2012
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has focused his campaign’s attention back on the self-proclaimed Native American heritage of his Democratic challenger, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, who listed herself as a minority in professional directories commonly used by recruiters.

The controversy had faded in recent months while Brown maintained a steady lead in the polls. But Warren overtook the Republican incumbent in more recent polls after delivering a high-profile speech at the Democratic National Convention this month.
Brown brought Warren’s lineage back into the spotlight with his remarks during a debate last week and with an ad that uses old news accounts instead of his own words to renew skepticism about his opponent’s ancestral claims — cleverly avoiding direct accusations. Warren responded with an ad of her own, saying: “Scott Brown can continue attacking my family, but I’m going to keep fighting for yours.”
Read entire article here…

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