Point of View Columns

Ten Years a Suspect

The Law of Unintended of Consequences is one of those laws that cannot be questioned. We have known all along that the race-based and unconstitutional Stop and Frisk procedure employed by the New York Police Department has resulted in the erosion of trust and confidence in law enforcement in many communities of color. As recent incidents at Barneys and Macy’s show, it has also resulted in the general criminalization of people of color.

Just about every adult black American who lives in or near a city has a story that involves their being followed around in a department store by security. It happened to Barack Obama and if you are an adult black American reading these words, it has probably happened to you.

During the past week, however, news stories regarding the arrest and detainment of black people who have legally purchased high end luxury items makes it clear that in New York, thanks to Stop and Frisk, white paranoia regarding the criminality of black people has reached hysterical, if not historical, levels. The fact that the wrongly apprehended individuals were offered a perfunctory apology by the NYPD does not hide the fact that there appears to be a new crime in the New York State Penal Code – LWB or Living While Black.

The Law of Unintended Consequences has been hard at work here. After over 4,000,000 unconstitutional and race-based stops over the past ten years, the NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy has not only trained its officers to look at people of color as likely criminals, the virus has spread.

After ten years of official criminal profiling of people of color in New York City, a policy specifically and heartily endorsed by the mayor and the police commissioner and praised by more than a few businesses, newspaper editorials and citizens groups, there should be no wonder that many white (and non-white) New Yorkers (and retailers like Macys, Barneys and others) have come down with bad cases of profile-itis.

It is an ongoing tragedy that law-abiding citizens of the City of New York should have to worry about being questioned, detained or arrested for the simple crime of LWB. White citizens in New York do not think twice about walking into a department store and going to that section of the store where the luxury items are sold.

Black citizens of New York have every right to feel that, in a similar circumstance, they are seen as escapees from some racial township in a latter day version of American apartheid. They are simply out of their “territory” and even having the funds to purchase the items that they want is not enough to keep them from being caught in the jaws of a criminal justice system seemingly bent on promoting injustice rather than public safety.

Macys, Barneys and the NYPD have already issued their precooked apologies with all of the sincerity of stale beer. But just as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly remain adamant and unrepentant with respect to the odious race-based policy of Stop and Frisk, it is certain that there will not be any acknowledgement that “Ten Years a Suspect” could be the working title for a description of how that policy has been perceived by communities of color.

Meanwhile, as an ironic footnote to this sordid display of institutionalized retail racism, the rap mogul Jay-Z is planning to launch a line of eponymous high end clothing at……..you guessed it………..Barneys. And predictably, many of Jay-Z’s fans and others have called upon him to break off his relationship with Barneys. And predictably, Jay-Z has demurred to date.

The irony is that through his outlandish lyrics and commentaries that glorify violence, criminality and misogyny, Jay-Z has actually done more to convey the perception of young black Americans as potential criminals than ten years of Stop and Frisk. Again the Law of Unintended Consequences is hard at work.

One can be fairly certain that Jay-Z has never given a second thought to the impact and effect of his promoting some kind of faux gangster lifestyle. But one of the consequences of his successful promotion is that too many people, black and white, take him seriously. And the next consequence is that people of color get racially profiled and arrested by his business partner.

One would never have thought to see the NYPD and Jay-Z as strange bedfellows – but there they are – both complicit in demeaning, degrading and criminalizing communities of color but never thinking about the consequences.

 

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Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – October 25, 2013

The continued unveiling of the activities of the National Security Agency has elicited cries of “shock” from this country’s European allies. Have they been watching too much “Casablanca? Meanwhile, one of the residuals of New York’s odious Stop and Frisk policy has been the establishment of a new crime category –“Shopping While Black”. And finally, the rollout of Obamacare has been slowed by technology failures. Amazingly, the Teapublicans are outraged – and confused.

“Casablanca Redux”

It turns out that the National Security Agency has been monitoring the calls and communications of citizens in Europe. And it appears that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is included in this mix. And Chancellor Merkel was so “shocked” that she is said to have called President Obama to complain to him personally.

But what is the reason for all of this “shock” and outrage. Every developed country has an equivalent of the NSA and every country conducts various forms of industrial, military and diplomatic espionage and surveillance as a matter of course.

Chancellor Merkel may be shocked that the NSA surveillance of her communications was exposed. What she should be shocked about is that the German equivalent of the NSA or Secret Service wasn’t able to prevent that country’s head of state from being the subject of surveillance by another country for two years. Now that is shocking.

Buying While Black

The many harmful side effects to New York City’s horrible and hateful race-based Stop and Frisk policy have been recounted. The degradation of black and Latino youth and the erosion of trust of the police in communities of color are fairly obvious consequences.

And now a spate of recent news stories has revealed another consequence – the general criminalization of black people in New York. Three separate stories recount the unwarranted arrest of a black college student, a black nurse and a black movie star at prominent New York City stores – Barneys and Macy’s. Their crime? Buying While Black?”

While you won’t find this crime in the New York Penal Code, it is clear that in the view of the New York City Police Department – and local retailers – infected by the racial contagion of Stop and Frisk – feel that there is reasonable cause to arrest a black person for buying a $300 belt, a $2500 purse or a $1400 watch. Even if those purchases were purchased with the valid credit/debit card of the owner. Clearly a black person buying a high end item – or anything – is reasonable cause for arrest.

Gil Scott-Heron wrote an anti-apartheid song entitled “Johannesburg”. It might be time to change the lyrics to “What’s the word, New York New York.

Computer Blues

Since October 1st, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, has been the subject of numerous technical website problems. Although hundreds of thousands of people are already registered for affordable health care, there are millions who remain waiting online.

The Teapublicans, at their predictable knee jerk best, have convened Congressional hearings, but not for the purpose of finding out the reason for the unsurprising glitches in the most ambitious American healthcare initiative in a generation. The Teapublicans want you to believe that these absolutely correctable computer issues are justification for dismantling Obamacare in its entirety.

The fact that millions of Americans have benefited from the passage of Obamacare since 2010 is beside the point on the Planet Teapublican. The dismantling of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement is their one and only goal.

Clearly the Teapublican Party is a one trick elephant.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Point of View Columns

“Twelve Years a Slave”

It is rare that a book, a song or a movie can change an entire country, but “Twelve Years a Slave” may just be that rare movie. Recounting in painstaking detail the horrors of racial slavery in America, “Twelve Years a Slave” is relevant not only for its historical narrative but also because it provides understanding as to where the United States is in terms of racial relations today – and why.

From “Birth of a Nation” to “Gone with the Wind” to “Roots” to “Mandingo” to “Django Unchained”, there have been a number of movies that have endeavored to convey elements of the American slave era, this country’s Original Sin. “Birth of a Nation” justified slavery. “Gone with the Wind” contextualized and sanitized slavery. “Roots” recognized slavery. “Mandingo” exploited slavery. “Django Unchained” caricaturized slavery.

“Twelve Years a Slave” demolishes the comforting myths and soothing lies regarding slavery. By telling the story of slavery absolutely and clearly through the eyes (and heart) of a slave, “Twelve Years” permits every viewer to step over a blood soaked and tear stained threshold into the horrible hell of American race based slavery.

Every viewer, regardless of race, will leave the movie theater having a very real idea of what it must have felt like to be a slave – to be property, to be the subject of indifferent cruelty and cruel indifference. Every viewer of this movie will walk to the edge of an ocean of pain, with wave after wave of assaults on one’s very humanity crashing upon the shore of their consciousness – and subconscious.

Insofar as motion pictures are concerned, it is has been said that “Schindler’s List” has provided the most vivid – and painful – understanding of what it must have been to be a Jewish victim of the Holocaust. In that same vein, “Twelve Years as a Slave” provides the most gut-wrenching, spirit-devouring rendition of what it must have been like to be a victim of American racial slavery. If only to understand the real history of these United States of America, “Twelve Years” must be seen by every American who would prefer to live with the truth instead of a myth.

“Twelve Years” is also important in terms of understanding racial relations in this country today. It must be understood that the cruel and inhuman and barbaric institution of American race based slavery stained this country for over two hundred years. But the barbarism and inhumanity and cruelty did not evanesce upon the end of the Civil War or upon the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery.

What followed after the Civil War was another century of institutionalized racism taking the form of legalized racial degradation (segregation), state sponsored terrorism (Ku Klux Klan and rampant lynchings) and the general, anesthetized denial of a problem by most white Americans who did not live in the South. The passage of landmark civil rights legislation in 1964 and 1965 made much of this horrific activity illegal. The spirit of racism cannot be outlawed and three centuries of indifference and dehumanization do not simply vanish into thin air, especially when they reside in the hearts and minds of men and women who, to this very day, embrace a culture that was built on the blood, sweat and tears of black slaves.

That is why there is nothing quaint or cute about the celebration of the Confederacy or the parading of the Confederate flag. The Confederate States of America initiated and fought the Civil War in order to protect and preserve American race based slavery. When anyone celebrates the Confederacy or parades the Confederate flag, they are clinging to a blood-soaked and sin-stained rag of a tradition that was literally a crime against humanity.

There are many reasons for the disparity that exists regarding the human condition of black Americans as opposed to their white counterparts. There can be no argument that there is so much more that black Americans must do in order to achieve and secure real progress.

But there should be no doubt that the ground upon which all Americans stand covers the bones and blood and tears and fears of millions of black men, women and children who were born, lived and died as slaves. And there should be no doubt that America’s Original Sin should not be set aside as an unfortunate episode in this country’s history.

The legacy of slavery lives with us all – to this very day.

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Weekend Edition – October 18, 2013

During the past week in Washington we were witness to a commemoration of heroism and also some craven, low grade behavior. Let’s take the high road. Meanwhile the D.C. Demolition Derby occasioned by the Teapublican Reign of Error clearly demonstrated something that has been obvious for a long time – the spirit of the Confederacy is alive and well and residing in the Teapublican Party. And finally, “Twelve Years as a Slave” is opening in movie theaters across the country – and as we go see this film we should remember that slavery is also alive and well throughout the world.

The Reward for Valor?

This past week President Obama awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Captain (Ret.) William Swenson for his bravery and valor during an incredible battle in Afghanistan. Putting issues of this country’s foreign policy aside for the moment, there is no doubt that when one reads the account of Captain Swenson’s actions it is impossible not to be moved by his incredible courage and compassion in the most lethal of situations.

Here’s the thing – Captain Swenson is applying to be reinstated to active duty because………….he is unemployed. Incredibly, in a country where so many armchair war hawks and beer drinking flag wavers whoop and holler about “honoring our troops” that not one corporate titan couldn’t find the spare change rolling around in one of his offshore accounts to make sure that Captain Swenson never had to work another day in his life should he so choose.

The Romans and the Greeks and the Zulus used to honor their war heroes. It appears that here in the United States they get a hearty handshake and a medal.

Enough said.

Crouching Elephant, Hidden Dixie

During the Teapublican Reign of Error that just ended (for the moment) it was obvious that the tail wagging the Teapublican elephant was Southern in origin. With the exception of House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Minnesota) and Congressman Steve King (Iowa), just about every talking head was from one of the former Confederate States of America.

It is well documented that upon the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, white Democrats in the South deserted that party and fled to the waiting pachyderm that used to be the Republican Party and is now clearly the Teapublican Party. That these Southerners, these sour souvenirs of a damnable past, would now try to dismantle all the social progress that has been made since the end of the Civil War is no longer a secret.

The Southern Teapublican zealots are hell bent on turning back the clock and the tide of history and they seem to be wedded to the same suicidal strategy that resulted in Atlanta, Richmond and most of the South being razed in 1864. And in the process these sociopathic ideologues are willing to bring down the entire country in the process of achieving there damnable goals.

There is only one way to describe this crew – they are 21st century terrorists, plain and simple. And, as they have shown, they are capable of wreaking more damage than all the jihadist terrorists around the world in their wildest dreams.

Is it Time to Free the Slaves?

This week “Twelve Years as a Slave” is scheduled to appear in theaters across the United States. Reviews state that it is the most compelling and painfully accurate rendition of American slavery to ever appear in a feature film. Much like “Schindler’s List”, “Twelve Years as a Slave” promises to be a teachable moment for all American, black and white.

However, lest we think that the modern era is more advanced, the Global Slavery Index 2013, which is compiled by the Walk Free Foundation, estimates that there are 30 million people worldwide who are living under conditions of modern slavery. Some of the largest numbers of slaves, according to this study, are to be found in India and China. Mauritania, Haiti and Pakistan had the highest number of slaves relative to the population of those countries.

Clearly, as a species, human beings have a long way to go.

Have a great weekend – stay strong and be great!

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Who Let These Dogs Out?

It has been observed that the exact moment that America began to lose its mind was at 12:10 PM on January 20, 2009 when Barack Obama became President Barack Obama. Since then madness has become the new normal as hordes of white Americans have donned their Tea Party Hats and wrapped themselves in Confederate flags seeking to “take back America”. Black Americans have not been immune from this crazy contagion and Dr. Ben Carson is Exhibit A in the American Mad House.

Clearly Dr. Carson was seeking to claim the Most Obnoxious Black Critic of President Obama, a prize that Professor Cornel West has been trying to turn into a Lifetime Achievement Award. Dr. Carson has overtaken Cornel West by claiming that the Affordable Care Act is “the worst thing to happen to America since slavery”.

Considering the indelible stain that racial slavery has left on this country’s moral, political and social fabric, it is beyond obscene for anyone to make that claim. Nevertheless any number of white Teapublicans and now the eminent Dr. Carson and others have made this baseless and morally indefensible claim.

But frankly, it is even worse when a black American will pick up the whip and the noose – lashing the truth and lynching the legacy of pain and perseverance of his own forebears. That Ben Carson should know better is not even the point. As a high school and college graduate and a medical doctor it is a good bet that he has a passing familiarity with the history of black and white people in America and knows that racial slavery was an abomination that can only be described as a crime against humanity.

Ben Carson is entitled to employ hyperbole and exaggeration but not at the expense of the history and legacy of his own people. To smear his muddy boots of extreme rhetoric on the graves and memories of generations of slaves and their descendants is simply unacceptable and he should be called to account for his misdeed.

Consider that you will never hear a member of the Jewish community, no matter how outraged at whatever political event, compare that event to the Holocaust, and with good reason. An American of French descent would never bring up the Nazi occupation of France in political discourse. That Ben Carson would not give the same level of respect to the victims of racial slavery in America and just leave them out of his howling screeds against Obamacare is offensive and shameful.

What makes Ben Carson’s comments all the more galling is that they come just as the Teapublicans in Congress and in the street have decided to show their true colors once and for all. On Sunday, October 13, 2013, there was a Tea Party demonstration in Washington and Confederate flags were unfurled along with racist taunts and slurs being hurled against President Obama.

All the while, Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and all the rest of the unhooded New Knights of the White Magnolia stood silent, never uttering a syllable of restraint or decency. Dog whistle politics is not new in this country – but now it seems that one will hear “nigger” more times than is heard on a Jay-Z album and that is saying something.

One hundred and thirty years ago, Frederick Douglass spoke truth to power and his words are worth repeating:

 “…Though the colored man is no longer subject to barter and sale, he is surrounded by an adverse settlement which fetters all his movements. In his downward course, he meets with no resistance, but his course upward is resented and resisted at every step of his progress.

If he comes in ignorance, rags and wretchedness… he conforms to the popular belief of his character, and in that character he is welcome; but if he shall come as a gentleman, a scholar and a statesman, he is hailed as a contradiction to the national faith concerning his race, and his coming is resented as impudence.

In one case he may provoke contempt and derision, but in the other he is an affront to pride and provokes malice.

Frederick Douglass September 25, 1883

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Weekend Edition – October 12, 2013

There are lies, damn lies and statistics…and then there are Newt lies. The Teapublicans continue to struggle for control of the wheel so that the entire country can do an encore of the last scene in “Thelma and Louise”. And finally, there seems to be some momentum to change the odious and racist name of the NFL team in Washington.

Newt, Lies and Videotape

This past week, with typical pomposity, the multiply disgraced and truth challenged Newt Gingrich blithely opined that it would be no big deal if the United States went past October 17th before it raised the debt ceiling. He referenced the fact that in the 1950’s during the Eisenhower Administration Congress waited several weeks before approving an increase in the debt ceiling. That part is true.

What Mr. Gingrich conveniently omitted is the absolute fact that in the 1950’s there was no such thing as a global economy. He omitted the fact that the interrelationship of the American economy with the rest of the world today virtually guarantees incalculable disruption of markets all over the world, including the markets in this country.

While Newt Gingrich engages in telling outright lies on occasion, it is when he employs half-truths that he is most dangerous.

“Thelma and Louise”- the sequel

Even casual film aficionados remember the final scene in “Thelma and Louise” when the title characters drive off a cliff in a spectacular suicide. Clearly Teapublicans in Congress are big fans of this movie because that would be the only explanation for their continued contention that if this country were to default on its debt on October 17th it would be not be a catastrophic event. Indeed, on the Planet Teapublican it might be a cleansing and cathartic moment.

They continue to cling to this recipe for national suicide when virtually every economist in this country has stated that an American default would be disastrous. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, every major corporation, every major bank and every major investment firm has said the same thing.

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Tea Party Terrorism

Recently some commentators in the press as well as White House staff members have referred to the Teapublicans in the United States Congress as “terrorists” by reason of their strategy of shutting down the federal government in order to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act. The thundering demands for apology as well as the cries and shouts of outrage and feigned injury cannot hide one basic fact – the Teapublicans in Congress are terrorists.

It has been said that one person’s patriot is another person’s terrorist. As has been noted before, George Washington, Jefferson Davis, Menachem Begin and Nelson Mandela have all been labeled with the term “terrorist” at some point. But in all of these examples, the individuals involved operated pursuant to a stated opposition to the governmental entity that they defied.

The Teapublicans are terrorists of a different order. Holding to a loudly articulate but philosophically incoherent view that “government is the problem”, the Teapublicans seem to believe that only the social service aspects of the federal government are “the problem”. On the Planet Tea Party there is no need for investment in education, health or infrastructure. But there is a rationale for funding law enforcement, penal institutions and farm subsidies.

But it is not their clouded view of government and the underlying social contract that has sustained the United States for over two centuries that is the problem. The problem is that, while claiming to be patriots and having this country’s best interests foremost in their hearts, they are willing to wreak havoc on the governmental process because they did not get their way.

There are two schools of thought regarding why the Teapublicans insist on playing Captain Ahab to the white whale of Obamacare. One is that there resides within the right wing of the right wing a belief that a national health care system is an unacceptable expansion of the federal government and should be opposed at all costs – even the cost of an orderly and healthy society and a stable economy.

The problem with this analysis is that Medicare and Medicaid have been a part of this country’s social safety net for almost fifty years. Social Security has been a part of this country’s array of citizen services for almost a century. Only the most rabid, foaming at the mouth Teapublican would advocate the repeal and destruction of these institutional supports, yet Obamacare has become the personal Alamo of the right wing of the right wing.

At some point someone will connect the dots and recognize that the viciousness of the modern neo-conservative movement known as the Tea Party coincides with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. And it is a fact that on the day that President Obama was inaugurated in January of 2009, the leaders of the Republican Party and conservative operatives actively conspired to collapse and delegitimize his presidency. While political opposition is a healthy proposition in politics, the Teapublicans crashed past the boundaries of decency and logic a while ago.

And so, leaders of the Teapublicans felt comfortable suggesting that President Obama is not an American citizen, that he is by turns a fascist, a communist, a Trojan Horse for the domination of America by the United Nations and an anti-colonialist revolutionary. He could be called “a liar” from the floor of the Congress and “Second Amendment solutions” have been casually discussed in the most gun-choked nation on Earth.

It is through this clouded prism of mindlessness, illogic, bigotry and meanness that the Teapublicans view President Obama and Obamacare. And it with this godforsaken world view that they can justify shutting down the federal government or even collapsing the American and the global economies.

If this sounds familiar, it is because it the same bloody, soulless illogic that motivates every terrorist and hostage taker in the world today. In the view of the Teapublicans the end justifies the means even if the means cause tremendous harm and permanent damage to the United States and its citizens.

Having failed to fully advance their cause at the ballot box – losing two presidential elections to the Anti-Christ in Chief; having been betrayed by the AlitoThomasScaliaRoberts rightwing cabal in the United States Supreme Court; having been unable to secure veto-proof majorities in the House and the Senate; the Teapublicans have decided to jettison the rules since they haven’t been able to win by the rules.

Terrorism is used by those who can see no other way to advance their cause. Of course, in the case of the Teapublicans there is another way – advocate, legislate and adjudicate.

The Teapublicans in Congress are genuine terrorists who are only interested in advancing their demented vision of the future, by any means necessary. No apologies to the terrorists in the Capitol are necessary.

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