Thursday, December 10, 2009

War is Peace

Yesterday, President Barack Obama humbly accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. During his acceptance speech, Obama said that his accomplishments are slight compared to other Nobel Prize winners such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela. I am proud that the first African American U.S. President received this distinguished award. Barack Obama is the embodiment of African Americans' hopes and dreams. He is a great symbol of American progress.

However, with all due respect, I agree with President Obama. His accomplishments are slight compared to great peacemakers like Dr. King and President Mandela. President Obama has been in office for less than one year. He was in office for a couple of months when he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Aside from giving beautiful speeches about mutual respect and international cooperation, he has done little for the cause of peace.

The timing of this award is ironic and controversial. The United States is waging two wars. Last week, after long deliberations, President Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. According to the President, this escalation will cost American taxpayers at least $30 billion this year. During his eloquent and thought provoking acceptance speech, Obama justified his decision to escalate the conflict. He stated that:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified…I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiation cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms…Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of American has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of arms…The instruments of war have a role to play in preserving the peace.

That last sentence reminds me of the slogan "War is Peace" in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Clearly, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee's award to Obama is peculiar.

I am no pacifist. In principle, I agree with the President’s general point. Some wars are necessary and just such as the Civil War and World War II. Although I support the President's goal of eradicating Al Qaeda, I do not support his decision to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan for the following reasons. First, other great powers such as Russia and Britain have failed in Afghanistan. The U.S. should reflect and learn from those examples. More troops equals more unnecessary American casualties.

Second, the Karzai government is a corrupt, inept regime of warlords and drug dealers. It is unlikely to ever become a reliable partner with the U.S. Without a strong central Afghan government, success is impossible.

Third, instead of squandering billions of dollars waging war and attempting to repair a failed state, that money should be used to address the problems plaguing American cities. My hometown, Detroit, has been devastated by sub prime mortgages, skyrocketing unemployment and failing schools. Many other inner cities face similar problems. This Nation always has enough money for war. But for health care and other social programs, we are told that those programs must be deficit neutral.

Fourth, Afghanistan is only one of Al Qaeda's safe havens. For instance, many of Al Qaeda operatives are in Pakistan. Many Al Qaeda leaders were killed or captured in Pakistan. Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia.

Fifth, the U.S. does not have a clear exit strategy. The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for over eight years. Despite Obama's assurances that the U.S. will begin to transfer forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have suggested that troops may remain in Afghanistan for years after that soft deadline.

And finally, American military intervention and occupation has not and will not ultimately defeat terrorism and fanaticism. Such policies fuel terrorism and perpetuate the endless cycle of violence and retaliation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No Faith Justifies the Fort Hood Massacre

I express my condolences to the Fort Hood victims and their families. I honor the fallen: Dr. Mike Cahill, Major L. Eduardo Caraveo, Staff Sgt. Justin M. DeCrow, Capt. John Gaffaney, Specialist Frederick Greene, Spc. Jason Dean Hunt, Sgt. Amy Krueger, Pfc. Aaron Thomas Nemelka, Pfc. Michael Pearson, Pvt. Francheska Velez, Lt. Cal Juanita Warman, Capt. Russell Seager and Pfc. Kham Xiong. I pray for the the wounded.

When I read about the terrible shooting rampage at Fort Hood, I was shocked and disgusted. When I discovered that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a fellow Muslim, was responsible, I was outraged. I cannot understand how anyone, especially someone claiming to be a Muslim, could murder innocent people. People have compared this incident to the Oklahoma City bombing. Some people mention that the media did not refer to Timothy McVeigh’s Christian religion or describe him a Christian terrorist. Some have questioned the relevance of Hasan's religious views.

Although the investigation is ongoing, according to reports, Major Nidal Malik Hasan's religion is relevant because he alleged exploited it to justify his cowardly actions. We should not bury our heads in the sand and pretend that his faith played no role. We must confront and condemn all fanaticism. Hasan reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) before he began firing on his fellow soldiers. Additionally, he reportedly expressed reservations about joining non-Muslims in a battle against fellow Muslims. He allegedly made statements sympathizing with suicide bombers and had ties to an extremist imam linked to Al Qaeda.

After beginning to recover from 9/11, this incident has set back Muslim and Christian relations by decades. When the public is constantly bombarded with disturbing images of suicide bombings and other terrorist acts committed by misguided Muslims in the name of God, understandably and but unfortunately, people begin to equate Islam with terrorism and violence. I share Army Chief of Staff General George Casey’s concern that this tragedy may lead to some people to question Muslim American soldiers’ loyalty. People must resist prejudice. The extremists are a minuscule minority. They do not represent the vast majority of law abiding and patriotic American Muslims.

I join the many Muslims who have condemned this horrific crime. In the words of President Obama, “No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving God looks upon them with favor.”

Many people have used distorted interpretations of Islam to justify terrorism. However, the Quran and the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) oppose terrorism and extremism. Each surah or chapter, except one, of the Holy Quran begins with the phrase “In the Name of Allah (God), the Beneficent, the Merciful.” Mercy is God’s dominant attribute. No merciful God would condone the brutal murder of innocent soldiers. It sickens me to hear terrorists use God's blessed name to celebrate senseless acts of violence. Although the Quran does address the issue of war within a historic and pragmatic context, the greeting of the Muslims is As-salaam Alaikum (peace be upon you). The words "Islam" and "Muslim" have peace as their root. In fact, in Surah 5:32 of the Quran, Allah compares killing an innocent person to slaying a whole people and saving a single life to saving a whole people. Similar to other major religions, Islam condemns suicide bombings. At Surah 4:29 in the Quran, Allah commands Muslims not to “kill (or destroy) yourselves for verily Allah hath been to you most merciful.” In Surahs 4:171 and 2:143, Allah encourages the people not "to commit excesses in religion" and refers to the Muslim community or Ummat as "justly balanced". Extremism is the ultimate manifestation of imbalance. In Surah 5:8 of the Quran, Allah commands believers to be fair and “not to let hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice.”

Intolerance and hatred breed violence. Muslim leaders must promote tolerance and mutual understanding. As stated in Surah 3:64, we must call Christian, Jews and Muslims to come to common terms. The Quran repeatedly reminds us that all of mankind was created from a single person. We share a common humanity and destiny.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Positive Images of Black Marriage

Last week, I listened to an engaging discussion on the Marc Steiner Show promoting the movie Happily Ever After: Positive Images of Black Marriage.

For a large segment of the African American community, marriage is not the norm. Many of our communities are plagued by absentee fathers and teenage pregnancy. According to the U.S. Census , in 2007, 40.4 percent of African Americans never married compared to 22.7 percent for whites and 31.4 percent for Hispanics. According to the U.S. Census report Living Arrangements of Children: 2004, only 38 percent of African American children live in two parent homes. In contrast, 87 percent of Asian children, 78 percent of white children and 68 percent of Hispanic children live in two parent households.

During the broadcast, the guests emphasized the need to present positive images of marriage to address the problem. For that reason, I look forward to seeing the movie. However, as one caller stated, drugs, welfare and mass incarceration have contributed the destruction of the African American family structure. Although helpful, positive images alone will not end this crisis. This is an urgent issue that the civil rights organizations and religious institutions must address.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How Can We Save the Children?

Last week, I read a disturbing article by Jozen Cummings about Derrion Albert’s brutal murder in Chicago. According to reports, Derrion was not a gangster or a drug dealer. He was an honor student. Someone struck Derrion Albert in the head with a 2 by 4 wooden plank and other people stomped and beat him to death. The article compared his violent death to the beating of Rodney King, the lynching of Emmett Till and the hosing of civil rights protesters. Derrion was not beaten to death by police, neo-Nazis or KKK members. Four African American teenage boys murdered him. The incident was captured on video.

Derrion Albert’s death is another recent example of the senseless violence that plagues our communities. Chicago is no different from other inner cities. According to CQ Press, the cities with the highest crime rates are New Orleans, LA, Camden, NJ, Detroit, MI, St. Louis, Oakland, CA, Flint, MI, Gary, IN, Birmingham, AL, Richmond, CA, North Charleston, SC, Cleveland, OH, Baltimore, MD, Miami Gardens, FL, Memphis, TN, Youngstown, OH, Atlanta, GA, Compton, CA, Orlando, FL, Little Rock, AR, Minneapolis, MN, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Jackson, MS, Newark, NJ and Milwaukee, WI. Most of those cities have large African American populations and relatively high homicide, poverty and unemployment rates.

Some young African Americans are waging a fratricidal war against their own community. One cannot watch the news without hearing about another young black homicide victim. There is no end in sight to this violence. According to the U.S. Census and the FBI, although African Americans constitute only 12.8 percent of the U.S. population, approximately 48 percent of all murder victims are African American. Over 90 percent of them are killed by other African Americans.

We have become completely desensitized to this kind of violence. We expect and accept it as a fact of life. Shortly after the incident, one of my Facebook friends posted a video of Central High School Principal and Newark City Council candidate Ras Baraka delivering a passionate speech regarding another violent incident, a shooting in Newark, New Jersey that occurred near the school. Addressing the predominately African American group of students in the auditorium, Baraka asserted that their plight was not normal. Instead of changing the situation, the students have adapted to their environment.

As Baraka stated, in many inner city neighborhoods, you will see murals, graffiti, and t-shirts honoring young African American homicide victims. Many wear this harsh ghetto reality as a hideous badge of honor. They proudly use words like “hard” and “gangster” to describe themselves and their neighborhoods. Popular hip hop music celebrates violence and eulogizes the deceased. As rapper Talib Kweli says in his song Africa Dream, they “drink champagne and toast death and pain like slaves on a ship talking about who got the flyest chain.”

If Derrion was murdered by the police or by a group of racists, the civil rights community and black politicians would be have been enraged. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would have been on every television station in America condemning this brutal murder. They would have organized mass demonstrations. would have launched another online petition drive and thousands of people would have signed the petition. Although it is commendable that civil rights leaders issued statements and attended the funeral, that is insufficient. Where is the sense of urgency? What is their long term plan of action?

This violence is a symptom of the underlying problems of concentrated generational poverty, unemployment and inferior schools. Instead of spending billions of dollars waging a so-called war on terror in Iraq, America must wage a war on poverty. Rather than spending billions of dollars bailing out avaricious Wall Street companies, the Obama Administration should devote similar resources to ending poverty. According to news reports, Attorney General Eric Holder will make a statement regarding this incident. Hopefully, Attorney General Holder will unveil a bold strategy to confront this crisis.

In addition to governmental involvement, the African American community, the parents, the churches and the mosques must bear responsibility as well. We cannot simply sit on our hands waiting for the government to save us from ourselves. We must support mentoring programs and anti-gang initiatives.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A New Chapter of International Cooperation

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Barack Obama stated that our future rests on four pillars, non-proliferation and disarmament of nuclear weapons, promotion of peace and security, preservation of the planet and a global economy advancing opportunity for all people.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama's Dilemma

After giving his famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama emerged on the national political scene. During the speech, he said:

We are all connected. There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a Latino America and an Asian America. There is the United States of America.

Many people embraced Obama as a symbol of the new post-racial era. That image made Obama appealing to a large segment of the white community. He was not another threatening, angry black man like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton or Min. Louis Farrakhan. People have described him as the Tiger Woods of politics.

During the Presidential Election, the Obama campaign avoided discussing issues of race. They constantly reminded the American people that Obama was not running to be the President of Black America. He was running to be President of the United States of America. When then Senator Joseph Biden referred to Obama as the first clean, bright and articulate African American Presidential candidate, Obama avoided directly addressing the issue. Later, Obama stated that he did not take the comments personally and that Biden’s statements were inaccurate. Eventually, Obama was forced to address the issue of race because of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy.
Obama’s strategy of avoidance helped him win the Presidency. Therefore, it is not be surprising that Obama rejected former President Jimmy Carter’s statement about racism.

It is obvious that Barack Obama is under attack in part due to his race. This is apparent when one sees the teabaggers’ protest signs. Some of the signs depict Obama as an African witch doctor, a terrorist and Adolf Hitler. One protester's sign read, “We came unarmed (this time).” Some of these protesters actually came to town hall meetings armed. At one of the town hall meetings, one deranged protester carried a sign threatening the President and the First Family’s lives. One preacher actually prayed for the President’s death. With their racially divisive remarks, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are inflaming the situation. For example, Limbaugh said, “In Obama’s America, white kids get beat up with the black kids cheering right on, right on, right on.” Furthermore, the birthers claim that President Obama is not even an American citizen.

In the face of all this ugly racism and hatred, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs asserted that “the President does not believe that criticism comes based on the color of his skin.” On Meet the Press, President Obama said, “This debate that is taking place is not about race. It is about people being worried about how our government should operate.”

I understand the Administration’s reasoning. The President is attempting to pass health care reform. He does not need any unnecessary distractions. It would be illogical for him to jeopardize long term goals for the sake of posturing. Politics is like a game of chess. One may have to sacrifice lesser pieces or even important pieces in order to win. Although I understand, I wish the Obama administration had the courage to speak the truth about race. Since Obama is silent, the progressive bloggers, activists and organizations must continue to speak out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

House Rebukes Rep. Wilson

I commend the U.S. House of Representatives for passing the resolution rebuking Rep. Joe Wilson for his outburst. During the proceedings, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer stated that the House will not stand silent in the face of conduct that was universally recognized as inappropriate. To watch the proceedings on C-Span, click this link. The resolution states:

Whereas on September 9, 2009, during the joint session of Congress convened pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 179, the President of the United States, speaking at the invitation of the House and Senate, had his remarks interrupted by the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson; and

Whereas the conduct of the Representative from South Carolina was a breach of decorum and degraded the proceedings of the joint session, to the discredit of the House: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives disapproves of the behavior of the Representative from South Carolina, Mr. Wilson, during the joint session of Congress held on September 9, 2009.

Since Rep. Wilson apologized to the President, Wilson’s supporters assert that Wilson should not have to apologize to the House. That argument fails for the following reasons. Rep. Wilson’s apology was insincere. He apologized only after Republican leadership pressured him to do so. In addition, he has exploited the spectacle to raise funds for his election campaign. On his website, he boldly proclaims that he will not be muzzled. Appearing on the Sean Hannity radio program, he embraced his new role as a hero of the right wing anti-immigrant movement. Rep. Wilson’s conduct not only offended the President, he offended the House, the Senate and the American people. If Wilson was sincere, he would have apologized to his House colleagues as well. Instead, he was defiant.

The House did the right thing by condemning him for his breach of civility and decorum. Now, lets focus on getting health care passed with the same efficiency. I hope that Rep. Joe Wilson’s 15 minutes of fame are over.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time for Censure

During his address to Congress, President Barack Obama stated that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his health care plan. In response, U.S. Representative Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie!” His outburst was completely disrespectful and undignified. Didn’t he realize that he was not at one of those town hall meetings? Would he have done that if the President was white? It is no coincidence that Mr. Wilson represents South Carolina, one of the most racist states in America. South Carolina was the bastion of the Confederacy. In that state, they continue to boldly and proudly fly the Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and segregation.

Later, Rep. Wilson issued this apology:
“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.”

Although White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel accepted Rep. Wilson’s apology on behalf of the President, Rep. Wilson needs to hear from the American people. He can be reached by phone (202) 225-2452, (803) 939-0041, fax (202) 225-2455, (803) 939-0078 and email An apology is insufficient. He should be formally censured by Congress.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Fear of a Black President

Before reading or hearing the President’s speech, the extreme right wing accused the President of attempting to use the public school system to advance a socialist agenda. After all of the hysteria and phony outrage, the Nation has read and heard President Obama’s inspirational speech to students. The speech was non-political. The President emphasized the common theme of personal responsibility. He encouraged students to maximize their potential by studying hard and behaving well. Obama urged students to overcome challenges.

Clearly, the Right’s concerns were completely unjustifiable. It is obvious that Republican Party minions are desperately trying to do everything in their power to undermine the authority of President Obama. They have descended to a new low by resorting to fear mongering, race baiting, McCarthyism and ridiculous conspiracy theories. They are obstructionists. Their goal is to distract and confuse the American people by spreading misinformation. Post-partisanship and post-racialism appear to be unattainable. The extreme Right can no longer be ignored. They must be confronted.

Friday, September 4, 2009

No More Compromise Part 2

I salute the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus for standing up. Yesterday, both Caucuses sent letters to President Barack Obama stressing the importance of a robust public option. The Progressive Caucus actually stated that they would not vote for a health care bill that does not include a public option. The Congressional Black Caucus's letter emphasized the need to maintain provisions addressing racial disparities in health care. Click the highlighted links to read the Congressional Black Caucus’s letter and the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s letter.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Black Doll Called Lil Monkey

This morning, I read an interesting article on one of my favorite blogs, Field Negro. This is another outrageous example of racism. Costco sold two different dolls. One is black. It is named Lil Monkey and includes stuffed monkeys. One is white. It is named Pretty Panda and includes stuffed pandas.
The Lil Monkey doll is blatantly racist. Similar to the New York Post cartoon of Obama, it equates African Americans with monkeys. I am glad that Costco pulled it from their shelves after receiving complaints. However, that is not enough. Action must be taken against the manufacturer, BrassKey Keepsake. Read the original story and watch the video.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No More Compromise

Earlier in his political career, Barack Obama supported single payer health care. A single payer system would provide free, universal and quality health care for all citizens. Every major industrialized democracy has some form of single payer health care.

It is a national disgrace that over 47 million Americans have no health insurance. Private health insurance companies’ primary objective is maximizing profits for shareholders. They actually increase profits by denying coverage. Many health insurance companies refuse to sell or renew policies due to a person’s health status. In addition, they deny coverage for treatment of certain pre-existing conditions. Moreover, due to escalating premium costs, fewer employees will be able to afford health insurance in the near future. According to a new Commonwealth Fund report, health insurance premiums increased “119 percent between 1999 and 2008, and could increase another 94 percent to an average of $23,842 per family by 2020 if cost growth continues on its current course.” [1]

To build a census to address this crisis, President Obama embraced a pragmatic approach. He has rejected the proposal of U.S. Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich for single payer legislation, United States National Health Care Act H.R. 676. In attempt to reach a compromise, the private companies would continue to provide health care insurance. However, under America’s Affordable Health Choices Act H.R. 3200, citizens would have an option to enroll in a public insurance program. H.R. 3200 would prevent companies from refusing to provide coverage based on an individual’s health status or pre-existing conditions. The legislation includes “new data collection efforts to identify and address racial health disparities.” Finally, people will receive credits to purchase private or public insurance.

Despite efforts to develop a bipartisan compromise, most Republicans and the Blue Dog Democrats continue to oppose the President’s health care plan. The right wing critics have called President Obama a socialist. A lunatic fringe has even compared him to Adolf Hitler. Instead serving as a medium to convey a clear message to the American people, the town hall meetings have degenerated into chaos. Consequently, the President’s poll numbers are declining.

Under intense pressure, the Obama Administration has expressed a willingness to eliminate the public option, the cornerstone of any progressive legislation. The public option was designed to create competition in the market place. As the summary of H.R. 3200 states, the public option "will be a new choice in many areas of our country dominated by one or two private insurers today."

Eliminating the public option will allow insurance companies to continue to raise costs. Their monopoly over the market and the political process must be brought to an end. The President has already compromised by rejecting a single payer system and by proposing to establish credits to enable more citizens to purchase in private insurance.

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters[2] is correct. The time for bipartisan cooperation is over, no more compromise. The Obama Administration needs to enforce party discipline and start twisting arms to bring the Blue Dog Democrats in line with the President’s agenda. The President and progressive members of Congress should reject any proposal that does not include a public option and they should support the Kucinich Amendment. That amendment would allow states to establish their own state based single payer health care plans. Surrender is not an option.

[1] Commonwealth Fund, New Report: Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance Premiums Increase 119 Percent from 1999-2008; Project to Double Again by 2020 (August 20, 2009).

[2] Rong-Gong Lin II. “Rep. Maxine Water a hard liner for public health care option.” Los Angeles Times. 23 August 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reparations Now!

On June 18, 2009, 144 years after slavery, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. The measure is now pending before the United States House of Representatives.[1] This apology is very significant. It is a major step toward racial reconciliation. Words are important. They have the power to inspire, unite and heal. This reminds me of President Obama speech during the Democratic Primary. He said, “Don’t tell me that words don’t matter. I Have a Dream. Just words. We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal. Just words…just speeches.” I hope that this resolution passes in the House as well. However, as the resolution states, “an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustice cannot erase the past.” Without action, words are meaningless.

U.S. Senator Tom Harkin said, “The real work lies ahead.” The real work is reparations. This resolution must be transformed into a launching pad for reparations. Although the resolution includes a disclaimer, it does not prevent future reparations legislation or litigation.

As Molefi Asante asserts in “The African American Warrant for Reparations,” this Nation has a moral obligation[2] to give reparations to the descendents of enslaved Africans. Our ancestors were kidnapped, shackled in chains, crammed into slave ships like sardines and forced to wallow in filth. As Eric Williams noted in Capitalism and Slavery, “The space allotted to each slave on the Atlantic crossing measured five and a half feet in length by sixteen inches in breadth. They were packed like “rows of books on shelves,”…chained two by two, right leg and left leg, right hand and left hand, each slave had less room than a man in a coffin.”[3] The “crowded conditions on the vessel increased the incidence of disease and epidemics during the voyage.” During the Middle Passage, many Africans were thrown overboard and devoured by sharks. Some scholars estimate that at least 10 to 12 million Africans died during the Middle Passage.[4] Other scholars estimate that over 100 million Africans died. [5] Slavery is our Holocaust, Our Great Catastrophe.

The Africans survivors of the Middle Passage were subjected to one of the most brutal forms of oppression and exploitation in human history. We were uprooted from our motherland and stripped of our culture, traditions and history. We were forced to adopt an alien culture. Consequently, unlike other immigrants, we do not know our original names, languages, tribes, cultures and religions. We were beat with whips, maimed, raped and murdered. We were completely dehumanized and reduced to property, bought and sold like cattle. As John Hope Franklin states in From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans,

"A slave had no standing in the courts: he could not be a party to a suit at law; he could not offer testimony except against another slave or a free Negro; and his irresponsibility meant his oath was not binding. Thus, he could make no contract. The ownership of property was generally forbidden him, though some states permitted a slave to have certain types of personal property. A slave could not strike a white person, even in self-defense; but the killing of a slave, however malicious the act, was rarely regarded as murder…Slaves could not leave the plantation without authorization, and any white person finding a slave out without permission could take him up and turn him over to public officials. They could not possess firearms, and, in Mississippi, they could not beat drums or blow horns. They could not hire themselves out without permission or in any other way conduct themselves as free men. They could not buy or sell goods…They were never to assemble unless a white person as present."[6]

As the United States Supreme Court noted in the infamous case of Dred Scott v. John A. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856), in describing the African,

"They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it."

After slavery ended, the African was subjected to a new phase of oppression, Jim Crow. Every aspect of life was segregated. The schools, hospitals, restaurants, transportation, sports, recreation, orphanages, prisons, funeral homes, morgues and cemeteries were segregated.[7]

In addition, lynching was a common occurrence. Between 1882 and 1968, approximately 4,742 African Americans were brutally lynched.[8] Many were hanged. Many were castrated. Some were decapitated. Many were burned alive. The lynch mobs referred to the burnings as Negro Barbecues.[9] Lynch mobs acted with impunity. With demented glee, they had the audacity to gather their friends and families and take photographs as if they were attending some grotesque sporting event. As documented in the book, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, the perpetrators actually used the photographs to make postcards. “Lynching occurred in all but four states in the contiguous United States, and less than 1 percent of the perpetrators were brought to justice.”[10] The federal government idly stood by and allowed these atrocities to continue for years. The U.S. Senate rejected three anti-lynching measures.[11] On June 14, 2005, the U.S. Senate approved a resolution apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislations. Although that apology is a good gesture, it is inadequate. Justice demands that the families of the victims be compensated. The living perpetuators must be hunted down like the Nazis and the 911 terrorists.

Legal segregation ended with Brown v. the Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and other civil rights legislation. Such legislation was designed to end discrimination. It was prospective. It was not designed to compensate the victims of Jim Crow era for decades of suffering.

Lingering modern American racism and white privilege are the products of slavery and Jim Crow. The myths of white supremacy and black inferiority were created to justify slavery and Jim Crow laws. Centuries of slavery followed by decades of segregated schools and other conditions inflicted severe psychology damage, stunted our intellectual potential and human development. As a result of this legacy of oppression, many of us continue to hate ourselves. Many of us continue to hate our dark hue and natural hair texture. Adopting our oppressor’s language, we continue to refer to our brothers and sisters as niggers.

Although there was been great progress, racial disparities continue to exist in education, criminal justice, health care and economics. For example, according to the National Urban League’s State of Black America 2009, “African Americans remain twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, three times more likely to live in poverty and more than six times as likely to be incarcerated.”[12]

In addition to a moral obligation, U.S. and European governments, descendents of slave owners and corporations have an economic obligation[13] to pay reparations. They were unjustly enriched from our enslavement. Their wealth was build from centuries of free labor, our sweat, blood and tears. Not only did U.S. government pass the laws that made slavery possible, the government utilized slave labor to build the Nation’s Capital.[14] American finance, banking, insurance, manufacturing, publishing and other industries have ties to slavery. Some of the U.S. companies that have ties to slavery include Aetna, New York Life, AIG, JP Morgan Chase Manhattan Bank, Brown Brothers, Harriman, Norfolk Southern CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, WestPoint Stevens, Knight Ridder, Tribune, Media General, Advance Publications, E.W. Scripps and Gannett.[15] The original benefactors of Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton and the University of Virginia were wealthy slave owners.[16] British banks, metallurgical industries, and insurance industries (including Lloyd’s of London) profited from the slave trade. [17] As Eric Williams states, “the triangular trade made an enormous contribution to Britain’s industrial development. The profits from this trade fertilized the entire productive system of the country.”[18]

Without profits from slave labor, those governments, corporations and families probably would not be as prosperous as they are today. They must disgorge their ill gotten gains and compensate the descendants of enslaved Africans.

As Black Panther Party founder Bobby Seale said, we must seize the time. The U.S. Senate has passed a resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation. We have a progressive African American President. The Democratic Party has a majority in the House and the Senate. Now is the time to push for the passage of Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) H.R. 40.[19] America’s debt is over 144 years past due and we must collect it. We have an obligation to ourselves and our ancestors. We must demand reparations now.

[1] Douglas, William. “In Congress, even trying to apologize stirs a fight.” Detroit Free Press. 5 July 2009.
[2] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay?: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:4.
[3] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 35.
[4] Asante, Molefi Kete. “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:8.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Franklin, John Hope. From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980: 134-35.
[7] Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. New York: Oxford University, 1974: 7.
[8] Allen, James Hilton et al. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 200: 12.
[9] Ibid at 10.
[10] Thomas-Lester, Avis. “A Senate Apology for History on Lynching.” The Washington Post. 14 June 2005.
[11] Ibid.
[12] National Urban League, Executive Summary, State of Black America 2009 Message to the President with Equality Index.
[13] Asante, Molefi Kete, “The African American Warrant for Reparations.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003:5.
[14] Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. New York: Dutton, 2000:3-5.
[15] Cox, James. “Corporations challenged by reparations activists.” USA TODAY, 21 February 2002.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Andre Deutsch, 1989: 98 -105.
[18] Ibid at 105.
[19] The purpose of the Bill is: “To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequently dejure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes. “Congressman John Conyers’s (D-MI) Bill for a Study on the Impact of Slavery on African Americas HR40IH, 105 Congress, 1st Session, H.R. 40.” Should America Pay: Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations. Ed. Raymond A. Winbush. New York: Amistad, 2003: 332.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Experience at the NAACP National Convention 2009

I enjoyed attending the NAACP’s 100th Annual National Convention. I was blessed with an opportunity to hear President Barack Obama and other great speakers such as NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, NAACP Vice Chair Roslyn Brock, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressman Al Green, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, Lawyers Committee for Equal Rights Under Law Director Barbara Arnwine, attorney John Relman, former Director-Counsel and President of NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Theodore M. Shaw. I met Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison and appeared on his show with NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo and NAACP Board Member Dr. Ernest Johnson. I saw Chaka Khan and Thelma Houston perform. I met and took a photo with actor Jeffrey Wright. I had a great time listening to Tim Hagans Quintet at Birdland, attending the Connecticut State Conference’s reception at Jay Z’s 40/40 club and attending Ms. Brock’s reception. Of the five conventions that I have attended, this one was by far the most exciting and surprising.

As an NAACP staff attorney, I attend the NAACP’s Convention and assist with the Association’s Continuing Legal Education Seminar. In addition, the NAACP Legal Department runs an office at the Convention. The Legal Department disseminates valuable information to NAACP members. Besides legal work, I participate in general Convention activities.

Before I left for the Convention on Friday morning, July 10, 2009, I saw a news report on the Today Show that reminded me why America still needs civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. After making a reservation to use the Valley Club swimming pool located outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the owners decided cancel the African American kids’ reservation and return their payment shortly after they arrived. Valley Club employees allegedly complained that the kids were “changing the complexion” the swimming environment.

After hearing that news report, I packed my luggage and headed to Baltimore Penn Station. When I arrived at the New York Hilton, I checked into my hotel and rushed to attend the staff meeting.

On Saturday evening, July 11, 2009, I went to the world famous Birdland jazz club and listened to The Tim Hagans Quintet. They were great. Tim Hagans reminded me of Miles Davis in his later years. Similar to Miles, Hagan had shoulder length hair and played beautiful, sweet melodic numbers. I particularly enjoyed a cool boogaloo song that he played. I do not recall the name of the song.

On Sunday, July 12, 2009, the NAACP began its Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) Seminar. The first panel was the Legislative Update. The panelists included Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott, Congressman Al Green and NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton. Sounding more like a Baptist preacher than a member of Congress, Congressman Green gave a rousing speech about minimum wage and housing discrimination legislation.

Next, former NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Director Counsel and President Theodore Shaw gave and excellent presentation on the U.S. Supreme Court. He discussed the dynamics of the U.S. Supreme Court. He told us that Justice Clarence Thomas is the most conservative justice on race issues. In addition, Mr. Shaw said that he went to high school with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayer. He rejected arguments that the Judge Sotomayer’s appointment was an affirmative action appointment. He further stated that she graduated at the top of the high school class above white and all other students. Since Sotomayor will be replacing Justice Souter, a moderate, her appointment will not affect the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court. He said that we will continue to see more 5-4 decisions. Mr. Shaw concluded by discussing Ricci v. Destefano and M.U.D. v. Holder.

Later, John Relman of Relman & Dane gave a housing discrimination presentation. He discussed the Zanesville case. In that case, the city deliberately deprived a segregated African American community of water for years. He stated that the segregated housing patterns made that discriminatory treatment possible. Moreover, he discussed the City of Baltimore’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo. The lawsuit alleges that Wells Fargo targets African Americans for sub prime loans. Consequently, African American neighborhoods are plagued by foreclosures and blight. As a result of that crisis, the City of Baltimore loses tax revenue and has to pay to board up abandoned homes.

After the first day of the CLE was over, I went to the Public Mass Meeting to hear NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and NAACP Vice Chair Roslyn Brock give powerful speeches. Both of them discussed the progress that we have made as a Nation and the progress that still needs to be made. In describing the great strides that the African American community has made, Ms. Brock said, “We went from the out house to the White House.” Julian Bond discussed the continuing need for the NAACP. He stated that in every social indicator African Americans continue to trail whites.

On Monday, July 13, 2009, the NAACP Legal Department had the Clarence Mitchell Memorial Luncheon. U.S. Attorney Eric Holder was the guest speaker. While I was standing by the door, NAACP Law Fellow Malcolm Ruff and I saw actor Jeffrey Wright. Malcolm said that he recognized Mr. Wright from John Singleton’s Shaft movie. My favorite Jeffrey Wright movie is Basquiat. I greeted Wright and asked if we could take a photo with him. We took the photo.

After taking my seat and listening to dignitaries give greetings, Eric Holder began his speech. It is very encouraging to hear Eric Holder say,“The Civil Rights Division is back in business.” I was proud to hear NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo say that Mr. Holder would not only go down in history as the first African American Attorney General but was one of the greatest Attorney Generals. Ms. Ciccolo proclaimed, “We have your back!” The crowd applauded.

Just when I thought the Luncheon was over, Ms. Ciccolo asked if I was in the room. I raised my hand and she asked me to come to the front of the room. I was seated in the back of the room. I proceeded to the front of the room. I thought that she wanted me to perform some task for her. When I arrived to the front of the room, Ms. Ciccolo announced that I was receiving the NAACP Legal Department Staff Lawyer of the Year Award. I was completely surprised. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. To receive this award from the world’s greatest civil rights organization at the 100th Annual National Convention before a such a prestigious group of lawyers, judges, scholars and activists was a great honor and privilege. It meant the world to me. The NAACP Law Fellows told me that they knew about it for weeks. They did a great job keeping it a secret.

After the Luncheon, I returned to the CLE and moderated a panel on 100 years of NAACP legal history featuring the Honorable Judge Nathaniel Jones, former Interim NAACP President and CEO and former General Counsel Dennis Courtland Hayes, University of Delaware Professor Leland Ware and others. Then, I listened to Charles Ogletree and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law Director Barbara Arnwine discuss future civil rights legal strategy.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2009, Angela Ciccolo asked me to go with her on the Joe “the Black Eagle” Madison Show radio show. I was a little bit nervous. Mr. Madison is one of my favorite radio personalities. When I worked in Washington, D.C., I listened to his show everyday.

Approximately ten minutes later, we met Board Member Dr. Ernest Johnson walked to Joe Madison’s booth at the New York Hilton Hotel. After Ms. Ciccolo and Dr. Johnson responded to Mr. Madison’s questions, Mr. Madison asked me about the division of work in the NAACP Legal Department. I told him that I handle in-house matters like contracts, insurance and estates. In addition, I told him that I handle public accommodations cases as well. Before I could tell him about the other types of cases that I handle, Mr. Madison essentially asked me to elaborate. I briefly mentioned the NAACP’s Myrtle Beach cases. I described how one hotel in Myrtle Beach actually refused to allow African American tourists to stay at the hotel during Black Bike Week 2008, an annual predominately African American motorcycle event which occurs during Memorial Day Weekend. The hotel owners actually filled the hotel to capacity with their white friends and employees free of charge in order to avoid serving African Americans.

During the Convention, I attended several receptions. Chairman Bond’s reception was good. NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous’ reception was chic and classy. The live band played a wide variety of dance music from old school R&B to contemporary hip hop. The NAACP Connecticut State Conference's reception at Jay Z's 40/40 club was great.

On Wednesday, July 15, 2009, I attended Ms. Brock’s reception. With all due respect, her reception was best. Her reception was on a yacht with three levels. The top deck provided spectacular views of the New Jersey and New York skylines. On the top deck, there was a gentle soothing breeze and Jill Scott’s music was playing in the background. Everyone was dressed in radiant white garments. The DJ was excellent. He played R&B classics and even some classic house music. The food was superb. I had a great time joking around with the NAACP Law Fellows and seeing my NAACP colleagues.

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, I stood in a long winding snakelike line in the New York Hilton Hotel waiting to enter the ballroom to hear President Obama speak. After waiting for over an hour, I finally entered the ballroom and found my seat on the balcony level. After eating my salad and dessert, a chocolate cup filled with berries and cream, the NAACP Event Planning Department Director Ana Aponte came to my table and other NAACP staff tables and told us to prepare to move in 30 minutes. She repeated the announcement several times.

At approximately 6:30 p.m., all the NAACP staff members lined up and exited the ballroom. Then, I realized that I was actually going to take a group photo with President Obama. We went down the escalator and entered a huge back room. There were four photo shoot locations set up, one for NAACP Board members, one for NAACP SCF members, one for New York officials and one for NAACP staff. While we were entering the back room, I saw Rev. Al Sharpton and took a few photos of him. While we were positioning for the NAACP group photo, I notice New York Governor David A. Paterson and took a photo of him. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement as I waited for President Obama to enter the room. I tried to play it cool. The experience was surreal.

About 10 minutes later, President Obama entered the room and posed for photos with the Board and SCF members. Then, he headed toward us and I started frantically taking photos of him. Obama was smiling and joking with us. He extended his hand and shook our hands. Everyone was laughing and happy. No one told us that we were going to actually meet the President. That was such a wonderful surprise.

After the photo shoot, we returned to our seats and listened to President Obama give his address to the NAACP. During his speech Obama thanked the NAACP for making his election possible. He explained how the NAACP helped make America a more perfect union. He talked about persistent structural inequality. Furthermore, he stressed the need for health care reform, energy reform and financial reform.

Later in his speech, he described his visit to a slave dungeon in Africa that had a church on top of it. He said that that was an example of saying one thing and doing another thing. He mentioned his walk through the door of no return and said, “We have always persevered.”

Also, emphasizing the need for a quality education, Obama said, “A world class education is a prerequisite to success…Education is necessary to bring about equality.” He further stated that the education system needs “more money and more reform.” Obama also stressed the importance of personal responsibility. Without parent involvement, no government program will solve the problem. He said, “Parents must demand excellence.” He asserted that parents must stop their kids from playing video games. He further stated that everyone cannot be Lil Wayne or an NBA basketball star. He said we need more African American scientists and other professionals. It was a great speech.

After Obama gave his speech, Julian Bond received the Spingarn Award, the Association’s highest honor. Finally, Chaka Khan performed. I loved hearing her sing Angel and Through the Fire. It was great meeting President Obama. I will remember this Convention for the rest of my life.