Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Friendship Nine and the Next Phase of the Struggle

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CNN reports that:
A South Carolina judge on Wednesday threw out the convictions of the Friendship Nine, who were jailed in 1961 after a sit-in protest in Rock Hill, South Carolina, during the civil rights movement. "Today is a victory in race relations in America," said Bernice King, daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said in a news conference following the ruling. "It is a new day." The prosecutor who pushed for this momentous day, 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett of Rock Hill, cited King's father when explaining to CNN on Tuesday why he was motivated to take up the cause of the Friendship Nine: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

I commend these brothers for their courage and sacrifice. They risked life and limb. They went to jail so that we can be free from segregation and humiliation. They were not simply fighting for the right to eat a particular white owned restaurant. They were not fighting for the right to give their money to their oppressor. They were fighting for basic human dignity and respect.

Those Jim Crow laws were oppressive and degrading. Instead of obeying such unjust laws, civil rights workers such as the Friendship Nine realized that they had a moral duty to defy and disobey those despicable laws. Today, those brothers were vindicated. History has absolved them.

As a result of their work, we can eat wherever we what. The "Whites Only" and "No Coloreds" signs are down. Such progress is commendable. However, today's social justice movement must advance to new heights by emphasizing entrepreneurship.

Instead of giving all of our money to white businesses and other non-black businesses, we must create more black businesses. Ultimately, that is the route towards true independence. It makes no sense for the vast majority of the businesses in our communities to be owned by foreigners and outsiders. Often, we do not even own the soul food restaurants in the black community. That is not integration. That is exploitation and economic disintegration.

As I reflect on the Friendship Nine's struggle, I think about political prisoners such Mumia Abu Jamal who unjustly languish in America's prisons. I think about those Black Panthers who were wrongfully convicted of crimes that they did not commit. Moreover, I think about Assata Shakur who is in asylum in Cuba.

Those sisters and brother fought against the same oppressive system that the Friendship Nine fought against. Like the Friendship Nine, our political prisoners should be exonerated, pardoned and redeemed as well. They are heroes, not villains. They should not be stigmatized for fighting against an unjust system. They should be celebrated.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

No Civil Rights Charges Will Be Filed Against Darren Wilson

As many predicted, apparently, no civil rights charges will be filed against former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. The New York Times reports that:
Justice Department lawyers will recommend that no civil rights charges be brought against the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., after an F.B.I. investigation found no evidence to support charges, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson. But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.

But a broader Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.

Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Brown’s family, said he did not want to comment on the investigation until the Justice Department made an official announcement.

“We’ve heard speculation on cases before that didn’t turn out to be true,” Mr. Crump said. “It’s too much to put the family through to respond to every rumor.”
At this point, bloggers, activists and civil rights organizations must escalate and intensify our demand that a special prosecutor be appointed in Ferguson. We must relentlessly continue to demand that a new grand jury be convened. We must blog, petition, march, agitate and disrupt until that happens. This grave injustice cannot stand.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

#SOTU: It's Good News, People!

Good morning, family. Here are a few excerpts from President Obama's State of the Union address.
Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we've been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over. Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 15,000 remain. And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe. We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we've endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

At this moment -- with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production -- we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth. It's now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come...

Here's one example. During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority -- so this country provided universal childcare. In today's economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It's not a nice-to-have -- it's a must-have. It's time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us. And that's why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America -- by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.

Here's another example. Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave. Forty-three million. Think about that. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home. So I'll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own. And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let's put it to a vote right here in Washington. Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It's the right thing to do.

Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they've earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise...

Forty percent of our college students choose community college. Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you've got to earn it -- you've got to keep your grades up and graduate on time. Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today. And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn't derail anyone's dreams...
Just when I was about to criticize the President for not mentioning the Voting Rights Amendment Act and Ferguson, he said this:
We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it's being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can't walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won't rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift. Surely we can agree it's a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America's criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.
Instead of mentioning those important issues in passing, he should have elaborated and focused more on those vital matters.

Moreover, although the President's proposals are impressive, unfortunately, it is improbable that the Republican dominated Congress will pass most of his bold initiatives. What did you think about the President's State of the Union address?

On that note, I will leave you with the swagger moment of the evening.

Obama had that Muhammad Ali confidence. He's a badddddd man!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Real King, the Real Selma and the Real Struggle for Voting Rights

It is easy to love someone when they are dead. That is especially true when you take that person's image and distort it, sanitize it, dilute it and neuter it. What is left is a hollow shell, a one dimensional shadow of the original person. The remnants are malleable, capable of being twisted and contorted to support positions diametrically opposed to everything the real man stood for. That has happened to our dear beloved brother, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The brother gave his life for equal rights and justice. He fought for African Americans to obtain the right to vote. As a result of his work and the work of countless civil rights activists and organizations, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act. That Act was written in the blood of the martyrs and the victims of police terrorism.

Approximately 50 years later, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court dismantled a key component of the Voting Rights Act, Section 4. Section 4 established the formula that was used to determine which states and jurisdictions were subject to preclearance. Section 4 applied to states with a long history of discriminating against black voters. Those states were required to obtain approval from the Department of Justice and/or a federal court before implementing any voting law changes. Section 4 prevented discriminatory laws from enacted without the need for long and costly litigation. It stopped discrimination before it had a chance to happen. Unfortunately, as a result of the disastrous decision in the Shelby County, we no longer have that critical safeguard. Consequently, several states are now free to enacted voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting, restrictions on third party voter registration and other laws designed to suppress the black vote.

As Congress celebrates the life of Dr. King and professes to love the man, the Voting Rights Amendment Act remains stalled and black voters remain in jeopardy. Voting rights should be a non-partisan issue. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As reported in the Hill,
The head of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) is teeing off on Republicans over the absence of voting right protections in the GOP's new congressional agenda.

Rep. G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) said he's "deeply troubled" by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va.) recent comments that Republicans have no intention of replacing central provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) shot down by the Supreme Court in 2013.
"If this is indeed the position of the entire Republican Conference, then they have clearly drawn a line in the sand — one in which they are on the wrong side of," Butterfield said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Goodlatte said congressional action is simply not necessary to improve the VRA because the parts of the law remaining after the Supreme Court ruling are "substantial."

"To this point, we have not seen a process forward that is necessary because we believe the Voting Rights Act provided substantial protection in this area," he said during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
If they really want to honor King, Congress should pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act. If we really love King, we must pressure Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act. Finally, if you willingly surrender to apathy and voluntarily forfeit your right to vote, please keep Dr. King's name out of your mouth.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

To Hell With Charlie Hebdo, the Terrorists and France

On earlier this month, terrorists killed 12 people at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly satirical magazine, in Paris, France. In response to that heinous crime, the world has united to condemn those criminals and terrorism, as do I. Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of Paris, including dignitaries from all over the world.

In spirit, I marched with them. As a blogger and a civil rights attorney, I support the right to free speech. All people should be able to write and speak freely without having to fear being arrested or killed.

However, I must part company with the demonstrators when they proclaim that they are Charlie Hebdo. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo. Charlie Hebdo is a racist, bigoted, Islamophobic, and hateful magazine. Charlie Hebdo regularly mocks and ridicules Islam, Muslims, Christians, Jews and black people.

As noted in the New Yorker magazine,
The magazine depicted the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in a sexual threesome. Illustrations such as this have been cited as evidence of Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to offend everyone. But in recent years the magazine has gone specifically for racist and Islamophobic provocations, and its numerous anti-Islam images have been inventively perverse, featuring hook-nosed Arabs, bullet-ridden Korans, variations on the theme of sodomy, and mockery of the victims of a massacre...

Blacks have hardly had it easier in Charlie Hebdo: one of the magazine’s cartoons depicts the Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, who is of Guianese origin, as a monkey (naturally, the defense is that a violently racist image was being used to satirize racism); another portrays Obama with the black-Sambo imagery familiar from Jim Crow-era illustrations.
Again, I am not Charlie Hebdo. To hell with Charlie Hebdo. Instead of being celebrated and exalted, that despicable publication belongs next to Nazi, Confederate and minstrel memorabilia in a museum somewhere.

Also, to hell with the terrorists for brutality and inhumanity. To hell with terrorists for making that racist publication even more popular. As stated on CNN Money, Charlie Hebdo normally sells 60,000 copies at week. Following the terrorists attack, the magazine sold millions of copies.  That recent issue defiantly mocks the Prophet.  To hell with the terrorists for doing more to defame Islam and Muslim, through their senseless violence, than Charlie Hebdo ever could. To hell with the terrorists for giving France and other countries an excuse to tramp on our civil liberties.

As France champions Charlie Hebdo's right to free speech, she tramples on others' right to free speech. As Glenn Greenwald reported on the Intercept:
Since that glorious “free speech” march, France has reportedly opened 54 criminal cases for “condoning terrorism.” AP reported this morning that “France ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism and glorifying terrorism.”

As pernicious as this arrest and related “crackdown” on some speech obviously is, it provides a critical value: namely, it underscores the utter scam that was this week’s celebration of free speech in the west. The day before the Charlie Hebdo attack, I coincidentally documented the multiple cases in the west – including in the U.S. – where Muslims have been prosecuted and even imprisoned for their political speech. Vanishingly few of this week’s bold free expression mavens have ever uttered a peep of protest about any of those cases – either before the Charlie Hebdo attack or since. That’s because “free speech,” in the hands of many westerners, actually means: it is vital that the ideas I like be protected, and the right to offend groups I dislike be cherished; anything else is fair game.
So, to hell with France too, for her hypocrisy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nigerian Lives Don't Matter, Apparently

CNN reports that:

Kano, Nigeria (CNN)—The attackers sped into a Nigerian town with grenade launchers -- their gunfire and explosions shattering the early morning calm.

As terrified residents scattered into bushes in Baga town and surrounding villages, the gunmen unloaded motorcycles from their trucks and followed in hot pursuit.

Residents hid under scant brush. Bullets pierced them.

Some sought refuge in their homes. They were burned alive.

Many who tried to cross into neighboring Chad drowned while trying to swim through Lake Chad.

By the time the weapons went quiet, local officials reported death tolls ranging from hundreds to as many as 2,000 people...

Boko Haram has terrorized northern Nigeria regularly since 2009, attacking police, schools, churches and civilians, and bombing government buildings. The Islamist group has said its aim is to impose a stricter form of Sharia law across Nigeria, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The group's brutal tactics have shocked and stunned the world.

It has kidnapped students, including more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted in April -- and remain missing.

On Saturday, explosives strapped to a girl detonated at a crowded marketplace in Nigeria, killing at least 20 people. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Boko Haram militants are the main suspects.
In France, fanatics kill 17 civilians. The world mourns. The media coverage is non-stop. Hundreds of thousands people march in solidarity against terrorism. Dignitaries from around the world participate.

On the other hand, in Nigeria, another group of fanatics destroy an entire town and kill up to 2,000 children, women and men. The world barely notices. The media coverage is scant and sporatic. Compared to the France story, Nigeria is a footnote, an afterthought. 200 Nigeria girls remain missing. Despite last year's popularity, the slogan #BringBackOurGirls has been tossed in the wind and forgotten. Sadly, we are reminded again that black lives don't matter.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Golden Globes: Common's Powerful Speech

Good morning, family. As reported on the Root, Common and John Legend won a Golden Globe award for best original song. Common's acceptance speech was truly powerful. He connected yesterday's civil rights movement to today's movement for social justice. Through people like Common, hip hop lives. We need more Commons and less Lil Waynes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Mike Brown: The Struggle for Justice Is Not Over

As noted on the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund ("LDF") website:

On Monday, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) submitted a letter to Judge Maura McShane, the Presiding Judge of the 21st Judicial Circuit in Missouri, requesting that the court conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation of the grand jury proceedings that resulted in the non-indictment of former Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson. The letter has been endorsed by LDF'S local partners the Mound City Bar Association and the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee. The transcripts of the grand jury proceedings reveal questionable prosecutorial tactics that compromised the integrity of the proceedings. As a result, LDF has asked the court to restore public confidence in the St. Louis County justice system by conducting an investigation, and taking appropriate steps, including convening a new grand jury or appointing a special prosecutor pursuant to Missouri law.

For the past several weeks, LDF has worked in concert with lawyers and legal experts from Missouri and across the country to read and analyze the grand jury transcripts. “Our review of these proceedings has raised grave legal concerns, including knowing presentation of false witness testimony, erroneous instructions on the law, and preferential treatment of Mr. Wilson by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. [Emphasis added] These and other issues raise questions about the integrity of the process and the lawfulness of the prosecutors’ conduct. This process sets a bad precedent for our judicial system and diminishes the high standard that stewards of the law are supposed to uphold,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel.
Read the letter here.

Our struggle is multifaceted and multidimensional. Like pieces on a chess board, organizations and individuals have varying and diverse roles in the social justice movement. Some will march and rally. Some will engage in acts of civil disobedience. Some will lobby the politicians. Some will blog, tweet, and write. Instead of taking to the streets, some will put on their business attire and wage war in America's courthouses. Sometimes, a letter from distinguished counsel can have a tremendous impact.

LDF's letter may be the glimmer of hope that we have been waiting for. One thing is certain. The struggle for justice is far from over. We will not rest until there is justice for Mike Brown and everybody else.