Thursday, August 29, 2013

Highlights from the March on Washington 50th Anniversary Commemoration

Good morning. Yesterday's March on Washington 50th Anniversary commemoration was a beautiful and dignified ceremony. It was an elegant tribute to those brave souls who sacrificed so much for us to be free. Equally as important, it was a call to action. We must continue to fight for social justice and economic equality. Here are a few highlights from the ceremony.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

#MOW50: We Still Have A Long Way to Go

As pointed out in a recent Washington Post article, there has been significant progress 50 years after the March on Washington. In her article, Juliet Eilperin notes that:
In 1964 the portion of all Americans 18 or older who voted was 69.3 percent; this has dropped to 56.5 percent last year. By contrast, the rate of African Americans voting in presidential elections has risen from 58.5 percent to 62 percent during that same period. The 2012 election marked the first time African Americans voted at a higher rate than whites, according to Census data.

The number of African-American elected officials has also risen dramatically since researchers started tracking it in 1970. Forty-three years ago there were 1,469 black elected officials nationwide, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; in 2011 there were roughly 10,500 such officials.

In education, blacks have also made tremendous strides. In 1964, 25.7 percent of blacks age 25 and over had completed at least four years of high school; that percentage stood at 85 percent last year. During that same period the number of blacks with a high school diploma rose from 2.4 million to 20.3 million. Between 1964 and 2012 the percentage of blacks age 25 and over who completed at least four years of college increased from 3.9 percent to 21.2 percent, with the number of blacks boasting at least a bachelor’s degree rising from 365,000 to 5.1 million.

And the poverty rate among African Americans has also dropped dramatically over the past five decades. Back in 1966 the poverty rate for all races in the United States was 14.7 percent, but it was 41.8 percent for African Americans. Two years ago the poverty rate for African Americans was 27.6 percent, according to the Census, but that was still nearly double the national poverty rate of 15 percent.

That last statistic is a reminder that this country still has a long way to go in order to realize King's dream. The following statistics illustrate the continuing problems that African Americans face. Although the stats focus on Chicago, other black urban communities have similar problems. As noted in the Chicago Reader, here are the numbers:
The unemployment rate in Chicago was 7.6 percent for blacks and 2.3 percent for whites in 1968 (the first year for which I could find unemployment data here by race). The black-white employment gap is nothing new, and it's not just a Chicago problem: nationally, the black rate has been nearly double and occasionally two and a half times the white rate since the 1960s. In 1963, the black unemployment rate was 10.8 percent, the white rate 5 percent; and most recently, in July, the national rates were 12.6 percent for blacks and 6.6 percent for whites.

Unemployment today is especially high for blacks in big cities, and that's certainly true in Chicago. Last year, the rate for blacks here was 19.5 percent, the rate for whites 8.1 percent.

As bad as that current 19.5 percent unemployment rate is for Chicago blacks, it understates their plight. It counts only those in the labor force, excluding the imprisoned. It also excludes "discouraged" workers—those who've given up looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

And today in Chicago, 30 years after the Urban League exhorted the city to reduce the socioeconomic disparities between black and white residents, 34.1 percent of black Chicagoans are living in poverty, and 10.9 percent of whites. In 2010, median income of white households was twice that of black households ($58,752 versus $29,371). The seven poorest community areas today are all overwhelmingly African-American. Twenty percent of their residents are living in extreme poverty—their incomes are less than half of the poverty line.

And African-Americans in Chicago haven’t been gaining ground economically of late. Their poverty rate climbed from 29.4 percent in 2000, to 31.5 percent in 2007, to the current 34.1 percent.

In the mid-1960s, Chicago's public school enrollment was nearly half white and half black—but the white students went to schools that were nearly all white, and the black students went to schools that were nearly all black.

With that composition, it's not surprising that the vast majority of African-American children in Chicago's public schools are still hypersegregated. In 2013, 86 percent of African-American students attended schools that were at least 90 percent black and Hispanic. More than two-thirds of African-American students—68 percent—were in schools that were at least 90 percent African-American.

Reading scores in the black schools of the 1960s were far below scores in the white schools—and African-American students are still way behind. The Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago reported in 2011 that graduation rates for CPS students rose from 48 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2010. But they were the lowest and grew the least for African-Americans. The Consortium also found that between 1990 and 2009, racial gaps in achievement grew, with white, Asian, and Hispanic students making modest gains in reading while black students showed "virtually no improvements."

Those statistics do not include other problems plaguing our communities such as mass incarceration, inner city violence, racial profiling and police brutality. In addition, the Trayvon Martin case is another reminder that black life still has no value in America. He is our generation's Emmett Till. We still have a long way to go to reach the Promised Land that King preached about.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The War on Black Voters in North Carolina

Disclosure and disclaimer: I work for the NAACP. However, as usual, the opinions expressed in this article are my own personal opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the NAACP, its officers, its members and/or its staff. I take sole responsibility for the contents of this article.

America is becoming a majority minority country. This nation is browning. Soon and very soon, white people will no longer be a majority. This country is slowly transforming and undergoing the Second Reconstruction. In 2008 and 2012, we witnessed what was once inconceivable, the election and re-election of the first African American president. In 2012, for the first time, a greater percentage of black people voted than white people. Progressives view those milestones as major achievements. Conversely, the reactionaries view those developments as the realization of their greatest fear, the fear of a black and brown nation.

Like the racist Klansmen in the Southern states following Reconstruction and like the white minority Apartheid regime in South Africa, the modern day White Citizens' Council, also known as the Republican Party, is determined to cling on to power by any means necessary. For the time being, their means of choice is voter suppression. By striking down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the United States Supreme Court unleashed the southern states on black people. Republican dominated southern states are waging an open war against African American voters. North Carolina is ground zero in that war.

People are not stupid. They know that blatant Jim Crow tactics such as outright poll taxes and literacy tests will be struck down by the courts. So, the right has erected new, second generation barriers to make it more difficult for black people to vote. The radical right wants to discourage black people from voting. If enough votes are suppressed, the GOP can remain in power. To hide their true intentions, they claim that they doing what is necessary to fight in person voter fraud. However, in person voter fraud is extremely rare.

Here is what is happening in North Carolina and why it matters. Last week, the North Carolina State Conference NAACP filed a lawsuit to strike down North Carolina law H.B. 589, the worst voter suppression law in the country. That law imposes strict voter identification requirements. According to the North Carolina Justice Center, "African Americans are more than three times as likely as whites to not have a government-issued ID." According to the ACLU of North Carolina, although black people are only 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they are 31 percent of the voters who do not possess valid state-issued government ID.

In addition to imposing strict voter ID requirements, H.B. 589 eliminated same day voter registration. Similar to voter identification requirements, the elimination of same day registration has a disproportionate impact on black people. As stated in the NAACP's lawsuit, although African Americans are 22 percent of North Carolina's population, they constituted 41 percent of the people who used same day registration in 2012.

H.B 589 also eliminates seven full days of early voting, including Saturday and Sunday voting. That change disproportionately impacts black people. As stated in the complaint, 70 percent of black voters used early voting in 2012. Although black people constitute 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they constitute 29 percent of all early voters.

Finally, H.B. 589 eliminates out of precinct voting and increases the number of people who can challenge ballots. As stated in the complaint, although black people constitute 22 percent of the population in North Carolina, they cast 30 percent of all out of precinct ballots. By increasing the number of challengers, North Carolina is paving the way for right wing groups like True the Vote to harass and profile black and Latino voters. This will only slow down the voting process, increase the lines at the polls and discourage people from voting.

Before enacting H.B. 589, civil rights groups informed the legislature of the proposed law's disproportionate and discriminatory impact on African Americans. Yet, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Fifteenth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment, the General Assembly decided to enact the law anyway. I hope that the court strikes down H.B. 589. If we don't defeat H.B. 589 in North Carolina, voter suppression will become the norm and African American political power will be diluted and other civil rights gains will be reversed as well.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

NYC Trampled on Black People's Constitutional Rights

As reported in the New York Times,

A federal judge ruled on Monday that the stop-and-frisk tactics of the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of minorities in the city, repudiating a major element in the Bloomberg administration’s crime-fighting legacy.

The use of police stops has been widely cited by city officials as a linchpin of New York’s success story in seeing murders and major crimes fall to historic lows. The police say the practice has saved the lives of thousands of young black and Hispanic men by removing thousands of guns from the streets.

But the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, found that the Police Department resorted to a “policy of indirect racial profiling” as it increased the number of stops in minority communities. That has led to officers’ routinely stopping “blacks and Hispanics who would not have been stopped if they were white.”

The judge called for a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms, including the use of body-worn cameras for some patrol officers, though she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk.”

In her decision, the judge cited some compelling statistics:

Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million
Terry stops.

• The number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of
686,000 in 2011.

• 52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.

• 8% of all stops led to a search into the stopped person’s clothing, ostensibly based on the officer feeling an object during the frisk that he suspected to be a weapon, or immediately perceived to be contraband other than a weapon. In 9% of these searches, the felt object was in fact a weapon. 91% of the time, it was not. In 14% of these searches, the felt object was in fact contraband. 86% of the time it was not.

• 6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons. The remaining 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action.

• In 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white.

• In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% black, 29% Hispanic, and 33% white.

• In 23% of the stops of blacks, and 24% of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force. The number for whites was 17%.

• Weapons were seized in 1.0% of the stops of blacks, 1.1% of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4% of the stops of whites.

• Contraband other than weapons was seized in 1.8% of the stops of blacks, 1.7% of the stops of Hispanics, and 2.3% of the stops of whites.

• Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of stops where the officer failed to state a specific suspected crime rose from 1% to 36%.

The court found that:

Based on the expert testimony I find the following: (1) The NYPD carries out more stops where there are more black and Hispanic residents, even when other relevant variables are held constant. The racial composition of a precinct or census tract predicts the stop rate above and beyond the crime rate. (2) Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than whites to be stopped within precincts and census tracts, even after controlling for other relevant variables. This is so even in areas with low crime rates, racially heterogenous populations, or predominately white populations. (3) For the period 2004 through 2009, when any law enforcement action was taken following a stop, blacks were 30% more likely to be arrested (as opposed to receiving a summons) than whites, for the same suspected crime. (4) For the period 2004 through 2009, after controlling for suspected crime and precinct characteristics, blacks who were stopped were about 14% more likely — and Hispanics 9% more likely — than whites to be subjected to the use of force. (5) For the period 2004 through 2009, all else being equal, the odds of a stop resulting in any further enforcement action were 8% lower if the person stopped was black than if the person stopped was white. In addition, the greater the black population in a precinct, the less likely that a stop would result in a sanction. Together, these results show that blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites.

Let me break this down. The New York City Police Department targeted, harassed and humiliated thousands of innocent black people solely based on the color of their skin. NYC police trampled on black people's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Many police officers are just like George Zimmerman. They view all young black people as criminals. We must stand up and fight racial profiling wherever it rears its ugly head.