When regular people lie, sometimes their lies are detected, sometimes they’re not. Legally speaking, sometimes they’re protected by the First Amendment – and sometimes not, like when they commit fraud or perjury.
But what about when government officials lie?
I take up this question in my recent book, “The Government’s Speech and the Constitution.” It’s not that surprising that public servants lie – they are human, after all. But when an agency or official backed by the power and resources of the government tells a lie, it sometimes causes harm that only the government can inflict.
My research found that lies by government officials can violate the Constitution in several different ways, especially when those lies deprive people of their rights.
If the government jails, taxes or fines people because it disagrees with what they say, it violates the First Amendment. And under some circumstances, the government can silence dissent just as effectively through its lies that encourage employers and other third parties to punish the government’s critics. During the 1950s and 1960s, for example, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission spread damaging falsehoods to the employers, friends and neighbors of citizens who spoke out against segregation. As a federal court found decades later, the agency “harassed individuals who assisted organizations promoting desegregation or voter registration. In some instances, the commission would suggest job actions to employers, who would fire the targeted moderate or activist.”
But in other situations, it can be difficult to find a direct connection between the government’s speech and the loss of an individual right. Think of government officials’ lies about their own misconduct, or their colleagues’, to avoid political and legal accountability – like the many lies about the Vietnam War by Lyndon Johnson’s administration, as revealed by the Pentagon Papers.
Decades earlier, in the 1950s, Sen. Joseph McCarthy sought both media attention and political gain through outrageous and often unfounded claims that contributed to a culture of fear in the country.
When public officials speak in these ways, they undermine public trust and frustrate the public’s ability to hold the government accountable for its performance. But they don’t necessarily violate any particular person’s constitutional rights, making lawsuits challenging at best. In other words, just because the government’s lies hurt us does not always mean that they violate the Constitution.
What else can people do?
There are other important options for protecting the public from the government’s lies. Whistleblowers can help uncover the government’s falsehoods and other misconduct. Recall FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, Watergate’s “Deep Throat” source for The Washington Post’s investigation, and Army Sgt. Joseph Darby, who revealed the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. And lawmakers can enact, and lawyers can help enforce, laws that protect whistleblowers who expose government lies.
In addition, the press can seek documents and information to check the government’s claims, and the public can protest and vote against those in power who lie. Public outrage over the government’s lies about the war in Vietnam, for example, contributed to Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 decision not to seek reelection. Similarly, the public’s disapproval of government officials’ lies to cover up the Watergate scandal helped lead to Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation.
It can be hard to prevent government officials from lying, and difficult to hold them accountable when they do. But the tools available for doing just that include not only the Constitution but also persistent pushback from other government officials, the press and the people themselves.
If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking over the Houston Independent School District.
But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.
The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.
The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.
While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.
States fail to deliver
State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.
But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.
Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.
Low threshold for state intervention
Following a 2015 law, HB 1842, the state of Texas was granted authority to take over a school district if a single school in that district fails to meet state education standards for five or more years. The bill was passed by the Republican controlled state legislature with Democratic support. However, Democratic state lawmakers representing Houston argue that the law was a mistake and urged for it to be revised.
Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.
So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?
In order to understand the logic of the planned state takeover of the Houston schools, it pays to understand the important role that schools have played in the social, political and economic development of communities of color. Historically, communities of color have relied on school level politics as an entry point to broader political participation. School level politics may involve issues like ending school segregation, demanding more resources for schools, increasing the numbers of teachers and administrators of color, and participating in school board elections.
In Texas, communities of color are politically underrepresented. Although blacks, Latinos, and Asians represent nearly 60% of the population in Texas, their political power at the state level is not proportional to their population. Whites make up 64% of the state legislature. The Republican Party controls the governorship, state House of Representatives and state Senate, but only 4% of all Republican state legislators are of color. Communities of color in Texas have filed lawsuits arguing that they have been prevented from gaining political representation at the state level by Republicans through racial gerrymandering and voter identification laws that disenfranchise black and Latino voters.
However, despite years of systematic exclusion of people of color, the political landscape is changing in Texas. Texas is increasingly urbanizing as a result of population growth in the state’s cities. Since urban voters are more likely to vote Democratic, the growth in the urban population may potentially alter political dynamics in the state. Also, while African Americans have solidly identified with the Democratic Party in Texas, Latinos have not. But that, too, is changing. Polls show that Latino support for Republican presidential candidates in Texas went from a high of 49% during George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, to 35% for McCain in 2008, 29% for Romney in 2012, to a low of 18% for Trump in 2016.
Houston, as the largest urban center in Texas, is at the forefront of this challenge to the Republican grip of state power in Texas. The Houston schools, in particular, are representative of the state’s demographic and political future. The nine-member Houston school board is reflective of the community it serves. It has four Latinos, three African Americans, one Asian and one white. This, in my view, is what has put the Houston public school system and school board at the forefront of a battle that is really about race and political power.
The Houston public school system is not failing. Rather, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the Republican state legislature are manufacturing an education crisis to prevent people of color in Houston from exercising their citizenship rights and seizing political power.
Unless you believe people in power never commit crimes, you must understand that sometimes they conspire together. A conspiracy is simply a secret plan by two or more people to do something unlawful or harmful. It's basically criminals plotting or committing a crime, that's all a conspiracy is.
The media will often call a conspiracy a scandal, but regardless of the term used, it's still the same thing, Bridgegate was a conspiracy, referred to as a scandal, where lanes of a bridge were closed during rush hour as political punishment for not supporting New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie's reelection.
"None Dare Call It Conspiracy" was a book written in 1971 that asserted, modern political and economic systems in most developed nations are the result of a sweeping conspiracy by the power elite. A quote from chapter two of the book is relevant in the Trump era:
"Everyone knows that Adolph Hitler existed." … "Similarly, we know that a man named Vladimir Ilich Lenin also existed. Like Hitler, Lenin did not spring from a family of social lions." … "Is it not theoretically possible that a billionaire could be sitting, not in a garret, but in a penthouse, in Manhattan, London or Paris and dream the same dream as Lenin and Hitler?"
We have been miseducated and trained to reject anything called a "conspiracy" instinctively, without considering the merits of the information being presented. In most aspects of our lives, we recognize it is in our best interest to ask questions, be skeptical, and base our decisions and actions on as much information as possible.
By Liberty Vittert, Washington University in St Louis
Have the internet and social media created a climate where Americans believe anything is possible? With headlinesciting now as the age of conspiracy, is it really true?
In a word, no.
While it may be true that the internet has allowed people who believe in conspiracies to communicate more, it has not increased the number of Americans who believe in conspiracies, according to the data available.
A “conspiracy theory” is a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot, usually by powerful conspirators.
Over 29% of the American population believe there is a “Deep State” working against President Donald Trump. Nineteen percent believe that the government is using chemicals to control the population.
These conspiracy theories are not simply restricted to a fringe population. At least 50% of Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, ranging from the idea that the 9/11 attacks were fake to the belief that former President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.
There are no major comprehensive, longitudinal studies on Americans’ attitudes toward conspiracy theories, mostly because it was not rigorously measured until about 10 to 20 years ago.
However, researchers have done a considerate amount of work in recent years in an attempt to understand this apparent phenomenon.
In over 100,000 letters, this review showed absolutely no change in the amount of conspiracy theory belief over time. In fact, the percent of letters about conspiracy theories actually declined from the late 1800s to the 1960s and has remained steady since then.
While these researchers looked at data only up until 2010, current polling has not shown any uptick in conspiracy theory belief since then.
The end is near?
As Uscinski and Parent pointed out, this isn’t the first time Americans may have felt surrounded by conspiracies.
In 2004, the Boston Globe stated that we are in the “golden age of conspiracy theory.”
In 1994, the Washington Post declared it’s the “dawn of a new age of conspiracy theory.”
In 1964, The New York Times said conspiracy theories had “grown weed like in this country.”
The list could go on and on, but the gist is clear.
Whether it is the invention of the printing press, mass publishing, the telegraph, radio, cable, the internet or social media, researchers and the general public have historically proclaimed that this – or this, or this – new advance is the change-maker in political realities.
Yesterday, in a post about violence in St. Louis, I mentioned how we must respect different ideas and work more closely together on the things were agree rather than fighting over what we disagree. The REVOLT Summit which included T.I., Killer Mike, Candace Owens as panelists was a perfect example of how people with different views and opinions can come together to come up with solutions.
Killer Mike made one of the most eye-opening comments during the REVOLT Summit when he stated how free people were arguing over who had the best slave master because they were arguing whether the Democratic or Republican party was best.
Killer Mike's slave master comments begin at 43:20 in the timeline, however, you may want to watch the entire video below of the REVOLT Summit if you have time.
"Your children ain't violent because they black" … "what are you putting in my malt liquor white boy? … "malt liquor is sold by white companies but only sold in black neighborhoods and you ain't checked it to see what's in it!" – Dick Gregory, 2008 State of the Black Union
The violence including murders happening in the City of St. Louis is a symptom of decades of intentional oppression, poverty, and exclusion. The violence in St. Louis is concentrated mostly in low income, black neighborhoods, 40% of black households in St. Louis are living in poverty. Those neighborhoods became low income because resources and opportunities were removed.
We need to stop trying to treat the symptom (violence) rather than finding a cure to the causes of the disease. As long as the disease festers in our community, the symptoms will keep multiplying and infecting other communities. Victims of poverty, children who are missing basic necessities and who struggle with poor healthcare or nutrition are more likely to encounter or engage in violence.
When you're black and poor in St. Louis, your opportunities to escape poverty are sabotaged. Schools in black neighborhoods are designed to make kids fail by providing substandard education, eliminating trade programs such as carpentry, defunding enrichment programs like art and music, non-existent honors program and criminalizing normal childhood behavior. Just last month, a court ruled that it was reasonable to handcuff a black 7-year-old hearing-impaired child for crying because he was being taunted by a group of boys.
Young black men are profiled and targeted as gun-toting drug dealers, although white people are more likely to deal drugs. Black people who do end up selling drugs, often do so because they become desperate and don't see any other option. Most people would never choose behaviors resulting in prison or death if they had other options. Harsh punishment breeds resentment which can lead to violence, we need to focus more on treatment and education.
Nearly four years ago, we published an article titled, "Crime Won't Decrease Until Oppression Decreases". That year, St. Louis had the highest murder rate in the country and not much has changed, except the increasing number of young children dying. Our communities are under attack and our primary response is to hold vigils and rallies. It's time to stop begging for change and start demanding change with direct action!
"Protest minus disruption or violence equal failure". We need to disrupt the systems that benefit from our oppression and destruction. The law is the primary means by which our community is oppressed but very few black people understand how to perform legal research and use that research to benefit them. Unscrupulous businesses, slum landlords, shady creditors, and even corrupt municipalities weaponize ignorance to enrich themselves.
Question everything, especially mass media and even things you've believed to be true your entire life. We've been fed a diet of half-truths and lies all our lives. During the 1980s and 1990s, people bought into the lies about crack and addicts were criminals that should be locked up. Now that white people are increasingly becoming addicted to drugs, its a national health crisis and suddenly the error of criminalizing addicts became clear.
City Government & Police
Now some are calling for more police and the criminalization of gun possession, the end result would be more black people criminally charged for behaviors considered a constitutional right for everyone else. Mayor Lyda Krewson stated St. Louis should be allowed to issue concealed weapons permits.
Where there are no guns, there are no gun deaths. Let me be clear, I am not pro-guns at any cost. If it was possible, I could even be in favor of an absolute gun ban for everyone. However, I believe it would be almost impossible to repeal the second amendment. With that said, I would never support restricting the rights of only a particular group of people.
In Missouri, it is your constitutional right to bear arms including a concealed weapon. Any attempt to deprive the citizens of St. Louis of that right is unconstitutional. The vast majority of people committing violent crimes in St. Louis are criminals using illegally obtained guns. Requiring gun permits in the city would create barriers to law-abiding poor (mostly black) residents from being able to afford the permit fees. As Tupac stated, people living in the most dangerous areas need weapons the most.
Recently, Mayor Krewson said she wants to relax the residency rule to hire police officers. The result of that policy would be more racist white officers policing a population they don't understand in a community they have no ties to. Racist cops and a previously racist prosecutor unfairly targeted and criminalized black men especially youth. Some were forced to accept plea deals rather than spend months in jail awaiting a trial. Atlanta’s population is about 54 percent African-American and 38 percent white. Its police force is 58 percent African-American and 38 percent white and Atlanta pays officers roughly the same as St. Louis City. Atlanta doesn't seem to have a problem recruiting and retaining black police officers, so why does St. Louis? Racism may not be the only reason, but it is among the reasons.
It's generally understood that police exist to keep order. What's not understood is that order is white supremacist patriarchy. – Zellieimani(Twitter 10-9-2014)
The year following Zellieimani's tweet, a leaked memo revealed that 12 white police officers on a specialized narcotics team in Dothan, Alabama, planted drugs and guns on over 1,000 innocent young Black men. All of the officers reportedly were members of a Neoconfederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels "racial extremists". Cobb County, GA police Lt. Greg Abbott, stated, "But you're not black. Remember? We only kill black people," to a white woman afraid to move her hands during a traffic stop.
St. Louis Police Department has a long reputation for being a racist organization. Most recently an investigation of racist Facebook posts resulted in 22 St. Louis City police officers being barred from bringing cases to the prosecutor. How many innocent young Black men did those 22 St. Louis police officers plant drugs and guns on?
Mayor Krewson if you want more black police officers, partner with St. Louis Public Schools and bring back the officer friendly program; encourage officers to go into predominately black schools to remove the fear of encounters and to spark interest in careers in law enforcement. How about creating a junior police academy program, similar to ROTC, to get high school students interested in law enforcement. Create an apprenticeship program where kids from high crime areas can apprentice in police offices during the summers before their junior and senior years. They could help in call centers, data entry, general office tasks, social media, and other functions where they become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of law enforcement as a career. Find out how other cities such as Atlanta recruit and retain black officers and at the same time develop methods to weed out racist and abusive officers.
The City has announced plans to implement Cure Violence, a program created by Gary Slutkin, a white doctor in Chicago. I'm not sure giving $8.5 million to a white savior is the best way to go, the staff members with decision-making power appear to be all white. Cure Violence began as the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention in 1995 and implemented its first program, known as CeaseFire, in 2000, but Chicago aka Chiraq does not have the best reputation in regards to violence.
We already have plenty of non-profit organizations in St. Louis, why not fund and utilize existing programs; Cure Violence doesn't seem much different from the efforts of Better Family Life. Another underfunded organization doing great work helping at youth risk is the Demetrius Johnson Foundation.
Opportunity is the best cure for violence that occurs in the City of St. Louis!
How about encouraging partnership between organizations. Instead of wasting millions of dollars with developers like Paul McKee, funnel funds to joint program between St. Louis YouthBuild and North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS). This would provide construction job training to at-risk youth while at the same time restoring St. Louis' housing stock and providing affordable housing.
Why not call a non-profit summit a sort of meet and greet where St. Louis Government and non-profits can get together and figure out how they can partner to solve issues. There are plenty of underfunded grassroots organizations already in target neighborhoods doing quality work and could do wonders with additional funding.
Solutions to the problems facing the black community will require individual and collective sacrifice. Solutions will require time, effort, creativity, and money.
Beware of Strangers Bearing Gifts
What seems like an act of goodwill may mask a hidden destructive or hostile agenda. In order to find effective solutions, we must first realize that what might look like a solution could actually be a trap. There are some who disguise themselves as friends but have declared war on black people and "all warfare is based on deception".
Margaret Sanger, the founder of what today is Planned Parenthood, was a racist eugenicist who wanted to exterminate the black population thru birth control. Under the pretense of better health and family planning, Sanger deceived and convinced some of the most prominent black doctors and well educated black clergy members into supporting her scheme. The black elites were so concerned with economic empowerment and garnering the respect of whites, that they jeopardized the very survival of Black people in America.
It seems to me from my experience … that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts.
We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal.
We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members. – Margaret Sanger: 1939 Letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble
The Civil Rights movement reached its peak with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The vicious racists who killed Emmett Till, bombed churches, sicked dogs and sprayed hoses didn't just suddenly disappear, they simply faded into the background. Ku Klux Klan members traded their sheets and hoods for police uniforms, judge robes, the suits of politicians and prosecutors. Since overt discrimination had been outlawed, they implemented a tactic of covert racism.
Racist politicians created policies that sabotaged President Johnson's Great Society legislation including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Food Stamp Act of 1964, Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Programs created during Johnson's administration were implemented in ways that wreaked destruction on the black community. Listen to Dr. Umar Johnson's discussion about how the black community has been under attack since 1970.
Between 1934 thru 1962, St. Louis' murder rate was usually between 6-13 per 100,000 people. After 1963 it begins to rise and then rises further during Nixon's "War on Black People", then again during Reagan's first term and then peaked during the crack epidemic. Chicago experienced a similar trend, 1974 was Chicago's deadliest year with 970 homicides, we checked because Cure Violence originated there.
More recently, three-strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, truth in sentencing laws, harsher punishment for certain drugs so-called solutions promoted to reduce crime resulted in mass incarceration and destroyed generations within the black and brown communities. Desperation to reduce gun violence appears to be setting the stage for gun possession to become the new mass incarceration tool.
Others Don't Care
Although oppressive discriminatory practices by others are directly and indirectly responsible for many of the issues plaguing the black community, most people outside our community don't care.
How often do you think about those 2.8 billion people on the planet who struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion people who lack reasonable access to safe drinking water?
Do you ever think about how many of those people's are forced to work in dangerous conditions so that you can purchase cheap products at Wal-Mart and DollarTree?
Probably not, because you're too busy concentrating on your problems. That's how other people feel about our problems, they don't care. Dave Chappelle expressed this sentiment during his NetFlix special, "Sticks and Stones" while talking about the opioid and heroin crisis.
Regardless who caused our problems, we better work at fixing them, because others don't care enough to fix them for us.
Support Our Champions
A person who truly fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else is a champion. Champions are rare, so when you have one, it behooves you to vigorously support them. Kimberly Gardner has become an unexpectant champion. I've never met Kimberly Gardner, but I did vote for her.
In December 2016, prior to Ms. Gardner's swearing-in ceremony, I stated in a post, "if Ms. Gardner proves to be a fair prosecutor, there will certainly be those that will attempt to distort her statements, vilify her actions and generally discredit her. There is a private prison system that stands to lose millions of dollars under a non-oppressive system".
Kimberly. Gardner has exceeded my wildest expectations, shown tremendous courage, and has gained my utmost respect. She's actually trying to fight the disease. She's created a list of officers who she won't accept cases from including 22 officers for racist Facebook post. Ms. Gardner has removed or reduced amounts of cash bond for minor, nonviolent offenses. She is also expanding diversion and drug court programs and ending prosecutions of low-level marijuana possession cases.
Two white prosecutors who served under Gardner's predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, conspired with white police officers to cover up a police beating of a handcuffed suspect, recently lost their law licenses because of their crimes committed while prosecutors.
The white St. Louis Police Officers' Association, has called for Gardner's resignation. Jeffrey Roorda, the association's spokesperson was fired from the Arnold, MO police department for making false statements and filing false reports.
It's not surprising that a police association with a racist history would target the City's first black prosecutor, especially since she is holding police accountable for their unethical and illegal actions. The Ethical Society of Police, founded by African American Police Officers was created to address race-based discrimination within the community and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
As long as Ms. Gardner continues to champion our rights and act as a buffer between police abuses, we need to provide as much support as we can provide to her and others who similarly act on our behalf.
Withdraw Support from Betrayers
I felt betrayed after the democratic mayoral primary. Of the four major black candidates, I had previously voted for three. Antonio French was the only candidate I hadn't voted for because I did not live in his ward, but my parents did. As I mentioned in "Black Ego lost the St. Louis Mayoral Race", "How is it possible that three intelligent, seasoned politicians didn't understand they would split the black vote so severely that none of them would win?"
When I see all the obstacles Kimberly Gardner is facing, I often wonder how things might have been different if she had a black mayor to work with. Remember, much of her opposition is coming from the police who are under the mayor's chain of command. I also wonder if the violence might have been reduced and some of those children's lives spared if things had worked out differently.
I've lived in the city for nearly 40 years and moved shortly after the last election. However, if still a city resident, I would not vote for any of the candidates who couldn't work together to ensure a black power structure in St. Louis City.
We must respect different ideas. No one idea or solution will solve all our issues and problems. Just because your idea is different from mine doesn't make yours wrong. We need to work more closely together on the things were agree rather than fighting over what we disagree. Disagreement slows progress. "United we stand, divided we fall".
Washington vs Du Bois
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) the most influential black leader of his time preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation. He urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity thru education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) a founding member of the NAACP, advocated political action and a civil rights agenda. He believed that developing a group of college-educated blacks, 10% of the black population “the Talented Tenth” would provide direction and leadership for the other 90% to change their social and economic status. Although Du Bois early on agreed with Washington’s strategy, later he decided it would serve only to perpetuate white oppression, which he expressed in his book, "The Souls of Black Folk".
The Washington/Du Bois dispute divided African-American leaders into two camps; Washington's accommodationist philosophy or Du Bois philosophy of agitation and protest for civil rights. Washington was born a slave, didn't know who his father was, was raised in the south and taught himself to read. Du Bois was born three years after the Civil War, was raised in Great Barrington, MA, a relatively tolerant and integrated community of 4,000 with only about 50 blacks. With encouragement from his teachers, Du Bois was the first black student to graduate from his high school.
Washington's and Du Bois' circumstances and upbringing were polar opposites, so naturally, because of their vastly different experience, their perspectives were different, so they had different ideas and solutions. We needed both Washington's practical approach for the masses of black people especially in the South and Du Bois approach of developing educated leadership. Those two giants might have achieved so much more working together instead of working against each other.
King vs Malcolm X
Half a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would also split black leadership into two camps. Again, we have two men with vastly different backgrounds. King was the descendant of prominent ministers went to college earned a Ph.D. and became a minister himself. Malcolm X's father was murder and he became a foster child after his mother was hospitalized with mental issues, he later engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping and went to prison where he became enlightened by another inmate. Dr. King's non-violent integration movement and Malcolm X's any means necessary racial separatism philosophy were both valid strategies. Unfortunately, they both denounced the other's strategy.
There are roughly 44 million Black people in the United States and we all face some form of discrimination. Forty-six percent of us are in poverty, the working poor or the working class earning $35,000 or less; 40% are in the middle class earning between $35-100K, the upper 14% includes the upper middle class and wealthy. Poverty by itself does not necessarily result in violence, the majority of poor people are non-violent. Poverty coupled with discrimination, oppression and poverty being criminalized, people become desperate and or hopeless. Those at the bottom face the most number of barriers and experience the worst oppression.
"The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose." – James Baldwin
Countries have diplomats and soldiers working together employing both peaceful tactics and force when necessary. There's no reason a movement can't utilize different tactics at the same time to arrive at a common goal. Near the end of their lives, both Malcolm X and King slightly adjusted their philosophies. A year before his death, King stated, "My Dream Has Turned Into a Nightmare". Like Washington and Du Bois, King and Malcolm X might have achieved more working with one another.
Groups such as the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) are increasingly aware of the need for self-defense and may one day be positioned as a deterrent against violence from outside groups. Organized armed groups of black men might even organize into neighborhood patrols.
Violence isn't always physical, sometime we must inflict economic violence to achieve our goals. Imagine what would happen if a large percentage of black people boycotted Christmas to protest a particular issue or form of oppression. Affected retailers and manufacturers might be motivated to speak out or intervene. If corporations can speak up for LGBT bathroom rights, the companies we spend our dollars with should speak up for us as well.
Even though the St. Louis area is home to SLU, Wash. U, Harris-Stowe, UMSL, Fontbonne, SLCC, Ranken and a number of other colleges and universities, the quality of education in the City of St. Louis has been horrible for decades and no one can seem to come up with solutions.
Washington University has a $7.5 billion endowment, St. Louis University's endowment is $1.3 billion. Wouldn't it be great if those and other institutions funded grants or scholarships to St. Louis Public School students who commit to teaching in the district for a minimum number of years. Those teachers would then be able to better relate and understand the challenges of their students because they were those students.
But it probably won't happen. There are many smart people at Wash. U. and SLU, if they wanted to help, they probably would have done something before now.
Wash. U. and SLU both have law schools. Certainly they've known for decades about abuses occurring in St. Louis area courts. After just a few visits to courtrooms, I saw the abuses instantly, that's why I created this self-help legal information site by myself. Those law schools could have easily provided meaningful online self-help legal information decades ago.
Maybe the city could partner with Ranken to offer technical education to students who commit to a revitalization program where their skill would be used to help repair the houses of elderly and disabled residents. Instead of burdening poor residents with housing violation fines and court fees, maybe they could be referred to the revitalization program for low-cost repairs and repayment arrangements.
Independently educate yourself and your children. Supplement your child's education with additional material, especially if they attend public schools; "how can you expect powerful people to give you the training, give you the education to take their power away from them".
What can you do individually to make things better?
Educate yourself thru self-study by using public libraries, the Internet and other resources to develop new skills so you can develop sources of income outside of your job. This is how businesses are created which leads to the employment of others.
Where you spend your money is where your create jobs. Patronize businesses in your own neighborhood which supports job creation.
Before you stop patronizing a business in your neighborhood, talk to or write the owner and express the reasons why you are dissatisfied with their product or service so they might improve.
Black business owners, understand decades of negative imagery and stereotypes put black businesses at a disadvantage, even among our own. Most of us are familiar with the saying "black people have to work twice as hard to get half as much". Your business has to price its products and service competitively, you must treat your customer with respect, you must invest profits back into your business and constantly improve.
Share your knowledge with others. Not everyone knows what you do. Sometimes the difference between someone failing and succeeding is the proper knowledge. Think about the knowledge and advice that was passed along to you and how helpful a particular piece of advice was. Give that gift of knowledge to someone else, it could quite literally save someone's life.
Volunteer or donate to an organization trying to make a difference in St. Louis.
Ask your church or any organization you donate money to explain exactly how they use your donated money.
Reach out and get to know your neighbors. Join or start a neighborhood watch or association.
Stand up for your individual rights no matter how small. Rights and privileges are seldom taken away swiftly; they are usually taken away slowly almost unnoticed until one day they are gone
Dr. Kwaw Imana, Class of 2000 at Morehouse College, delivered a powerful Valedictorian speech where he rejected a Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and most prestigious scholarship in the world, because of Cecil Rhodes racist history. Imana compared it to a person of Jewish descent being offered a Hitler scholarship and challenged his fellow graduates to create businesses and institutions in black communities.
Churches and Organizations
Black churches, organizations and community members could partner together form a non-profit corporation to act as a central clearinghouse for resources. Black organizations and institutions compete against each other for government grant funding. Competing for that funding drains resources and once secured, yearly audits are required to show how funds were spent. Pooling the resources of multiple organization under the umbrella of a single entity would be more efficient and those resources could become much more effective.
"the educated Negro does not understand or is unwilling to start small enterprises which make the larger ones possible." – Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro 1933
As we mentioned during a reparations post, Black churches take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year, which is greater than the GDP of dozens of entire nations. How much of those funds are being spent to benefit the community in which you live? If a fraction of church donations were pooled together think about the endless possibilities: schools, homeless shelters, urgent care clinics, hospitals, business incubators, convention venues and more. Consider how the Catholic church builds schools, hospitals, senior housing, and nursing homes all under the Catholic Charities Umbrella.
The Betrayal of the Black Elite
We have declared drug use to be a health crisis, so we need to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, otherwise, we are declaring drug addiction is a crime. In the United States, drugs became illegal in the early 1900s due to racism and drug enforcement tends to highly disproportionately affect minorities.
Many other countries including Spain, Italy, Germany, and Mexico have already decriminalized small amounts of drug possession. Canada is treating opioid addiction with prescription-grade heroin. In August 2009, Argentina’s supreme court declared in a landmark ruling that it was unconstitutional to prosecute citizens for having drugs for their personal use – "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state".
Decriminalizing drugs would reduce many of the criminal justice encounters that create conditions which result in violence. It will also free police officers to concentrate on other crimes.
Violence always indicates that something else is wrong. Treating violence as a symptom of a disease is a step in the right direction. As long as the disease goes untreated, all of us including our children are in danger of becoming victims.
A handful of people participated in the civil rights movement that provided new rights to everyone and protected denied rights to oppressed people. Had more people participated greater achievements might have been made.
What will you do? If your plan is to let others tackle this problem, then it will never be solved. If you can identify just one person who needs help and then assist them, you can change the world!
We are nutrition and food policy researchers who have studied the effects of SNAP on the health and well-being of low-income Americans. Should this change go into effect, we believe millions of Americans, especially children, and local communities would suffer.
“My eating habits have improved where I can eat more healthy than before,” a Massachusetts woman who had recently been approved for SNAP told us. “It is like night and day – the difference between surviving and not surviving.”
SNAP benefits also ripple through the economy. They lead to money being spent at local stores, freeing up cash to pay rent and other bills. Every US$1 invested in SNAP generates $1.79 in economic activity, according to the USDA.
Trying again and again
The Trump administration has repeatedly attempted to slash SNAP and make it harder for people who qualify for benefits to get them.
The Trump administration also worked with Republicans in Congress to try to tighten eligibility requirements. Had this policy been implemented, all beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 59 deemed “able-bodied” would have had to prove they were working at least 20 hours per week or were enrolled in school. According to government projections, some 1.2 million Americans would have eventually lost their benefits as a result.
Congress, which would have needed to approve the change for it to take effect, rejected it in December 2018. The White House then sought to change work requirements through a new rule that has not yet taken effect.
In July 2019, the Trump administration again sought to restrict access to food stamps without any input from Congress, this time by going through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a program that gives low-income families with children cash to cover childcare and other expenses.
Currently, most states automatically enroll families in SNAP once they obtain TANF benefits. The new rule would prevent states from doing this. Even though 85% of TANF families also get SNAP benefits, the vast majority of them still live in poverty.
The Trump administration’s proposed budgets have also called for changing how the government helps low-income families get food they have trouble affording. Its 2019 budget proposal called for replacing half of SNAP benefits with what it called “harvest boxes” of nonperishable items like cereals, beans and canned goods.
According to research we conducted with low-income Americans, 79% of SNAP participants opposed this proposal, with one of the primary reasons being not being able to choose their own foods.
“People who are struggling are already demoralized,” a New Mexico woman who uses SNAP benefits told us. “Being able to make our own food decisions is something that keeps us feeling like human beings.”
Advocates for food aid fear that recent proposals to change how SNAP works would reduce the share of Americans who get these benefits by making it harder to qualify and enroll in the program. Should this major transformation ever occur, children and families won’t have access to critical benefits that help them avoid going hungry.
Since the economy is doing well overall, the number of people on food assistance programs has fallen. The reason for the decline is that the number of people who are eligible for these benefits rises when the economy falters and falls when conditions improve. As a result, the government is spending less on food stamps without cutting the SNAP budget.
Case in point, 7 million people have already left SNAP due to better economic stability. In parallel, federal spending on SNAP budget has dropped from $78 billion in 2013 to $64 billion in 2019.
If the Trump administration wants to shrink SNAP, reduce costs and have fewer low-income Americans receive benefits, we believe that the best thing it can do is to keep working to improve the economy – particularly for low-income Americans, who have been reaping fewer benefits from the improving economy than others in recent years.
The Trump administration has weakened legal protections for farmers and eased off enforcing rules on powerful meat companies.
by Isaac Arnsdorf
After years of working as a sheriff’s deputy and a car dealership manager, John Ingrum used his savings to buy a farm some 50 miles east of Jackson, Mississippi. He planned to raise horses on the land and leave the property to his son.
The farm, named Lovin’ Acres, came with a few chicken houses, which didn’t really interest Ingrum. But then a man showed up from Koch Foods, the country’s fifth-largest poultry processor and one of the main chicken companies in Mississippi. Koch Foods would deliver flocks and feed — all Ingrum would have to do is house the chicks for a few weeks while they grew big enough to slaughter. The company representative wowed Ingrum with projections for the stream of income he could earn, Ingrum recalled in an interview.
What Ingrum didn’t know was that those financial projections overlooked many realities of modern farming in the U.S., where much of the country’s agricultural output is controlled by a handful of giant companies. The numbers didn’t reflect the debt he might have to incur to configure his chicken houses to the company’s specifications. Nor did they reflect the risk that the chicks could show up sick or dead, or that the company could simply stop delivering flocks.
And that growing concentration of corporate power in agriculture would only add to the long odds Ingrum, as a black farmer, faced in the United States, where just 1.3% of the country’s farmers are black.
The shadow of slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow has left black farmers in an especially precarious position. Their farms tend to be smaller and their sales lower than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While white farmers benefited from government assistance such as the Homestead Act and land-grant universities, black farmers were largely excluded from owning land and accumulating wealth. In recent decades, black farmers accused the USDA of discriminating against them by denying them loans or forcing them to wait longer, resulting in a class-action lawsuit that settled for more than $1 billion.
Along with these historical disadvantages, black farmers say they have also encountered bias in dealing with some of the corporate giants that control their livelihood. In complaints filed with the USDA between 2010 and 2015, Ingrum and another black farmer in Mississippi said Koch Foods discriminated against them and used its market control to drive them out of business.
After the complaints by the farmers, an investigator for the USDA, which is responsible for regulating the industry, looked into Koch Foods’ dealings with those farmers and found “evidence of unjust discrimination,” according to a 700-page case file obtained by ProPublica. The investigator concluded that Koch Foods violated a law governing meat companies’ business practices.
The Trump administration has cut back on enforcing this law, with the USDA now conducting fewer investigations and imposing fewer fines, as ProPublica has reported. Koch Foods hasn’t faced any penalty.
Koch Foods declined to provide an interview with any of its executives or to answer detailed questions about its dealings with black farmers in Mississippi. A lawyer for the company said it denies wrongdoing.
The five largest chicken companies now make up 61% of the market, compared with 34% in the hands of the top four firms in 1986. As the biggest companies expanded their control, they raised farmers’ average pay by a mere 2.5 cents a pound from 1988 to 2016, while the wholesale price of chicken rose by 17.4 cents a pound, according to data from the USDA and the National Chicken Council.
Mississippi is the fifth-largest poultry-producing state, with more than 1,300 chicken farms. In a state where the population is 38% black, only 96 of those farms were operated by African Americans in 2012, the most recent USDA data available. From 2009 to 2017, Koch Foods went from having contracts with four black farmers in Mississippi to zero.
Koch (pronounced “cook”) Foods is based outside Chicago and supplies chicken, often sold under other brands, to major restaurants and retailers such as Burger King, Kroger and Walmart. The company, which is privately held, is not part of the business empire of the conservative billionaires Charles Koch and David Koch. The owner of Koch Foods, Joseph Grendys, has a fortune that Forbes estimates at $3.1 billion.
After Ingrum signed his contract to grow chickens for Koch Foods, in 2002, different company representatives kept coming with lists of expensive modifications they wanted Ingrum to make, according to an affidavit he provided to the USDA investigator. After Ingrum met all the specifications, the next representative went back on what the previous one said and wanted things done a different way, Ingrum said in the affidavit.
Chicken companies usually say they update their specifications to improve animal welfare or respond to consumer preferences like avoiding antibiotics. But Ingrum couldn’t find much logic in the changes Koch Foods wanted him to make. One service technician directed Ingrum to install lights in one place, the next one someplace else. Another time, the company wanted Ingrum to move a power line, even though it was out of the way of the feed trucks and bins. That cost him $6,000.
According to Ingrum’s affidavit, when he met with a manager about the shifting demands, the manager said, derisively, “I had a couple of y’all when I was at Sanderson,” another big chicken company. Ingrum asked the manager, who was white, what he meant by that. The manager didn’t answer Ingrum. Reached by ProPublica on his cellphone, the manager hung up.
Ingrum suspected that the truck drivers who delivered feed were shortchanging him, so he installed sensors to alert him when the drivers arrived. In 2007, according to his affidavit, Ingrum caught a driver failing to fill a whole feed bin. The company brushed it off as an honest mistake. But Ingrum had heard of drivers asking farmers for payoffs to get more feed, according to the affidavit.
In 2009, Ingrum spent $50,000 on renovations that Koch wanted. Then the company wanted Ingrum to rebuild his compost shed. That was another $5,000. Then Koch Foods said the shed had to be certified by a government inspector. Ingrum called the agency, which said the shed didn’t require approval and they only sent an inspector out once a year.
With Koch Foods delivering flocks to Ingrum’s farm less frequently than expected, he was making less money and falling behind on his loan payments. He looked into selling his farm. When a prospective buyer from Florida called Koch to inquire about a contract with them, a Koch employee scared him off by saying Ingrum’s farm needed $100,000 in repairs, according to Ingrum’s affidavit. The employee also swore at Ingrum’s real estate agent and spread a rumor that the bank had foreclosed, according to the affidavit. That wasn’t true, but it was becoming increasingly hard to avoid.
In 2010, Ingrum heard that the Obama administration was making a push to help farmers who were getting squeezed by consolidation in agriculture. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were going around the country to hear from farmers about the problems in their markets. When they came to neighboring Alabama to meet with chicken farmers, Ingrum went and spoke on a panel.
At the hearing, Ingrum recounted how the company would pay him less if the birds were sick or underfed, even though the company supplied the chicks and the feed. Ingrum said he’d received a tray of 100 chicks with 35 to 40 already dead. Another time, he ran out of feed for three days and the chickens started eating one another.
“There’s no way it could be fair,” he said at the hearing, according to the transcript. “I had no control over the feed that they brought me.”
That night, when Ingrum returned home to Lovin’ Acres Farm, he found a note from Koch Foods saying his contract had expired.
The USDA investigator later inquired whether it was “solely a coincidence” that Koch Foods left the note at Ingrum’s farm on the same day he attended the hearing 300 miles away. A company supervisor said he “could not say.”
“I never got another chicken after going to that meeting over there in Alabama,” Ingrum, 55, said in an interview. “They put me slap out of business.”
As Ingrum ran out of money, the power company cut his electricity, but he refused to leave for three months. His former colleagues at the sheriff’s office had to come remove him. For the next five years, he stayed with relatives until he scraped together enough money from working at a car dealership to get back on his feet.
“Twenty years, everything I worked for, I lost it in one summer,” Ingrum said. “It just ruined me.”
Around the same time, two other black farmers in the area also stopped growing chickens for Koch Foods. Out of 173 chicken farmers under contract with Koch Foods in Mississippi, there was only one African American left. His name was Carlton Sanders.
Ingrum said he warned Sanders: “They’re coming after you, Carlton. You next.”
Sanders’ farm was in a nearby town called Lena. He had been in the business since 1992. Back then, he worked with a local family business called BC Rogers, which he said always treated him professionally. He used the chicken manure to fertilize his vegetable garden, and he took pride in his trees growing figs, pears and apricots. “I just had everything set,” Sanders said.
When Koch Foods bought BC Rogers in 2001, everything changed, Sanders said. Sanders’ performance was above average, according to the ranking system that the company used to pay farmers. But he felt singled out for disadvantages.
“I’ve never been treated like that by anybody,” Sanders, 63, said. “It was just like I was in hell with them.”
In 2014, Koch Foods wanted Sanders to make $105,000 worth of improvements, according to the USDA case file. Then Sanders borrowed an additional $93,000 to buy new curtains, insulation, cables and heaters. Suddenly, he owed a total of $295,000, but he made his payments on time, according to financial records reviewed by ProPublica.
The next year, Koch Foods informed its farmers of a new requirement for the ventilation in their chicken houses. Sanders went to his bank to see about another loan. The loan officer called the manager at Koch Foods and sent a follow-up email asking for “a listing of needed improvements that Koch Foods is requiring.”
The manager never responded directly to the banker. Instead, the company gave Sanders an “update list” with 23 items. Sanders gave the list to his banker, who understood it to be the company’s response to his inquiry. Sanders obtained work estimates for the 23 updates, amounting to $318,000, according to the case file.
The banker advised Sanders not to apply for another loan and to consider selling his farm instead. Meanwhile, Koch Foods stopped giving Sanders chickens to raise.
Sanders asked around and realized other farmers hadn’t gotten the same 23-item “update list.” So in December 2015, he filed a complaint with the USDA.
The complaint was assigned to a government attorney in Atlanta named Wayne Basford. Basford had also looked into Ingrum’s case, stretching back to 2010. Over the years, Basford had collected affidavits attesting to Koch employees’ calling black farmers “niggers” (the employees denied it), and he observed that the office staff was all white. He also noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was suing Koch Foods, alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination against Hispanic employees in Mississippi. (The company later paid $3.75 million to settle the lawsuit, though it did not admit wrongdoing.)
In February 2016, Basford notified Koch Foods that he was investigating a new complaint he’d received, without mentioning Sanders. Koch Foods’ lawyer responded by criticizing the condition of Sanders’ farm and, at the same time, denying that the company asks farmers to make “upgrades.”
As Basford inquired about the 23-item “update list” that only Sanders received, Koch Foods said these were optional. The list used the word “must” six times and never said the updates were voluntary.
“I hate to say it, but they just don’t like black people,” Sanders said. “There are no black people in the office — they don’t even want black people cleaning up after them.”
Basford asked to schedule a meeting with Koch Foods’ executives to present his findings. The company’s lawyer, Scott Pedigo, of the firm Baker Donelson in Jackson, Mississippi, called Basford to suggest meeting with local managers instead, according to emails included in the case file. Basford insisted on speaking with the top executives “due to the potential gravity of the situation.”
In July 2017, Basford and two colleagues from the USDA met in Birmingham, Alabama, with Koch Foods’ chief operating officer, Mark Kaminsky, along with two other executives and Pedigo. Grendys, Koch Foods’ billionaire owner, did not attend, but Basford sent Grendys a copy of his slides.
In the presentation, Basford said Koch Foods’ actions toward Sanders, combined with its treatment of Ingrum and the other black farmers, was “evidence of unjust discrimination.” Chicken companies are prohibited from engaging in “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive” business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The Obama administration tried to tighten enforcement of this law by proposing new regulations to spell out what those prohibited practices are. But the meat industry lobbied Congress to block the proposed rules by withholding funding from the USDA. When the Trump administration came in, it swiftly prevented the rules from taking effect.
So when Basford presented his findings to the Koch Foods executives in July 2017, he included all the evidence of discrimination, but he alleged a narrower violation: that Koch Foods failed to notify Sanders of why it stopped delivering chickens to his farm. In response, Pedigo argued that the notification nine months earlier about the new ventilation requirement was enough.
The notice requirement had been strengthened by the Obama administration, but Congress reversed the change in 2015. That made it harder for Basford’s case to stick.
Basford, who declined to comment for this article, submitted the case for the USDA’s lawyers to evaluate possible next steps, such as seeking a fine against Koch Foods. The agency hasn’t taken any action so far. A USDA spokesman said the investigation is “ongoing” and the agency is coordinating with the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Basford tried to mediate between Koch Foods and Sanders. In the months following Basford’s presentation in 2017, he pushed Koch Foods to resume delivering chickens to Sanders’ farm so that Sanders could save it from foreclosure.
Pedigo responded with a list of 10 repairs that Sanders would have to make first. Seven were among the 23 fixes that the company had previously insisted were optional.
Basford wanted Koch Foods to assure Sanders that if he spent the money to make the latest repairs, the company would start bringing him chickens again. The company wouldn’t agree.
In the end, all Koch Foods agreed to was “reviewing its policies and programs.” Pedigo told Basford the company has a “commitment to treating all of its independent contract growers equally and with dignity and respect.”
In response to questions from ProPublica about Ingrum and Sanders, Pedigo declined to comment on the specific allegations in Basford’s investigation. In a statement, he said, “Koch Foods applies its standards and expectations to all growers uniformly without regard to race or any other protected status and has never discriminated against any grower on such basis.”
Kaminsky, the Koch Foods COO who attended Basford’s presentation, last October became chairman of the National Chicken Council, the industry’s trade group.
Koch Foods and other top chicken companies — Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms — are fighting multiple lawsuits from retailers, distributors and farmers accusing them of conspiring to fix prices. The companies have denied the allegations. In one of the cases, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division asked the judge on June 21 to freeze discovery in order to protect an ongoing criminal investigation.
The USDA is now doing fewer investigations like Basford’s. His office finished 1,873 investigations in 2017, the most recent data available, down from 2,588 in 2012. Penalties for violating the Packers and Stockyards Act dropped from $3.2 million in 2013 to as little as $243,850 in 2018, according to preliminary case data on the USDA’s website.
The enforcement office, known as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, was dissolved as part of a department-wide reorganization. The USDA shifted responsibility for enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act into another division whose primary purpose is helping companies boost sales. The staff in the Packers and Stockyards Division has decreased to 137 from 166 in 2010.
Sanders found himself in a downward spiral after the dispute with Koch Foods. He had a stroke and a heart attack. The bank foreclosed on his farm and he filed for bankruptcy. His wife left him. These days, he’s living on food stamps plus whatever he gets from hunting and fishing.
“I’ve been about as dead as somebody can go without being dead,” he said. “I’m trying to hold my head up, that’s all I can do.”
On Sundays, Sanders passes by his old farm on his way to church. The farm is just sitting there, still up for sale, lying fallow. Sometimes, he takes a long way around to avoid seeing it.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.
The immense powers of prosecutors throughout the US mean that the scales are tipped against defendants — and justice itself, says a legal expert
By Jessica Brown
Every country with a functioning criminal justice system depends on prosecutors, the attorneys who charge defendants with crimes and build the case to convict. But the ones in the US are a breed apart. They are more than agents of the court: Top prosecutors in every US county typically have to run for the office, making them elected officials as well. No other nation in the world elects its prosecutors, and few give them so much power.
Prosecutors in the US have broad discretion over how and when to press their cases, which means they often control the fates of defendants, says Stanford Law School professor David Alan Sklansky. In a 2018 paper published in the Annual Review of Criminology, Sklansky notes that prosecutors are increasingly blamed for the problems that plague US criminal justice — its excessive severity, its lopsided targeting of racial minorities and its propensity for error. Part of the difficulty, he suggests, is the largely unchecked power of prosecutors.
Black men also receive federal prison sentences that are on average almost 20 percent longer than those of white men who commit the same crime. When prosecutors offer a plea deal, white defendants are 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their most serious initial charge dropped or reduced to a less severe charge. And there are a disturbing number of cases in which prosecutorial misconduct has led to convictions that later are overturned on appeal. In one famous case from 1987, prosecutors removed all four potential black members from a jury that later convicted a black man named Timothy Foster of murder. The prosecutors denied that they were motivated by race during jury selection. Years later, Foster’s lawyers obtained prosecutors’ notes and the Supreme Court declared, by a vote of 7-1, that the jury selection in his trial was unconstitutional.
In another case, Anthony Graves, a 26-year-old black man in Texas, was wrongfully convicted in 1994 of murdering a family of six. He ended up spending 18 years behind bars, including 12 years on death row. The real murderer, Robert Carter, eventually confessed that he had acted alone, and investigations showed that the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, withheld testimony that would have cleared Graves.
A growing chorus of legal scholars and reform-minded prosecutors has called for a new approach that would restore fairness and justice to the prosecutorial process. But Sklansky says reform won’t come easy. Any meaningful change must start with disentangling prosecutors from conflicting roles that straddle the legal and political systems. In other words, he says, we must be clearer about what we want from prosecutors.
Sklansky spoke with Knowable about the rise of prosecutors and the need for reforms to restore fairness and justice. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the biggest problem with prosecutors in the US?
It’s hard to say. There are actually several different problems with US prosecutors. One is that they have so much power to coerce guilty pleas, another is that they have almost unbridled discretion over how to use that power. A third is that prosecutors are often overzealous and break the rules, and a fourth is that they are sometime unimaginative about how to use their discretion more constructively.
But I think the most fundamental problem may be that we have complicated and often contradictory expectations for prosecutors. We want them to be impartial but also to be forceful advocates, to follow the law but also to exercise mercy, and to work closely with the police but also to stand apart from them.
The conflicting expectations for prosecutors, and the ambiguity regarding their role, can make it difficult to regulate them, and difficult for prosecutors themselves to know what it means to do their job well.
Are prosecutors really more powerful than judges?
In many cases, yes. That’s partly due to a surge in statutes calling for mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of crimes. Because judges have little ability to lower the sentences called for in these statutes, often the only way for defendants to avoid these penalties is to strike a deal with prosecutors — or take their chances at trial. Because prosecutors can threaten such draconian sentences, they have tremendous power to coerce guilty pleas.
Do current laws make it difficult for prosecutors to achieve fair verdicts and sentences?
I wouldn’t say that the laws make it hard for prosecutors to achieve fair results. But they do make it complicated. Some laws — especially many of the laws calling for harsh mandatory sentences — can be unjust when applied to particular cases. So doing justice will often mean being judicious about when these laws should be invoked.
And then there are procedural rules that require prosecutors to take off their advocate’s hat and be fair and impartial. Prosecutors are often called on to decide, for example, when evidence that could be helpful to the defense needs to be disclosed. That’s like asking basketball players to call their own fouls.
We won’t be able to eliminate the ambiguity of the prosecutor’s role, and we should continue to pressure prosecutors to be impartial. But we need to be relatively realistic about how well we can expect them to navigate these conflicting expectations.
Why don’t prosecutors use their powers more fairly?
Again, it’s important to stress that many prosecutors work hard to be impartial, and many do an admirable job of exercising their powers in a balanced, thoughtful way. But many prosecutors’ offices have a culture of competitiveness, and courtroom victories are the primary measure of their success. Prosecutors are attracted to the job partly because of the excitement of legal combat. Too often, convictions and long sentences get celebrated, even if they are undeserved.
It’s hard to shift prosecutors’ priorities from victory to justice. Prosecutors don’t get their names in the newspaper because they worked out a reasonable compromise. “So-and-so convicted on all counts” is an easy headline to write.
If prosecutors want to achieve true justice for defendants, they need to ask themselves some tough questions that go beyond convictions and acquittals — questions that can be very difficult to answer. Have they helped to resolve cases in ways that are equitable and humane? Have they helped move the community forward?
Why do we keep learning about cases where prosecutors have failed to disclose evidence that would help the defense?
Prosecutors have vastly more investigative resources at their disposal than defense attorneys, so they often have more access to information and evidence. Prosecutors are required to share evidence with the defense only if it could help the defendant in a significant way. But because they’re so motivated to win, it can be very hard for prosecutors to objectively decide whether the evidence they’ve uncovered is worth sharing. They have an incentive to convince themselves it isn’t.
Is there a lack of diversity among prosecutors, and does that contribute to unfair and discriminatory practices?
Prosecutors’ offices generally don’t disclose statistics on racial and gender demographics, so we don’t know much about prosecutor diversity. A few years ago, some of my students at Stanford Law School carried out research on the race and gender of prosecutors in California. As far as I know, this was the first time that comprehensive statistics of this kind were compiled for prosecutors in any state. And what the students found was that prosecutors in California are far whiter than the state as a whole.
That matters. There’s very good reason to believe that when prosecutors don’t reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve, it skews their decision-making. Diversity reduces systemic bias and makes it easier for prosecutors to take into account the perspectives of all parts of the community.
Racial diversity is never a panacea. Just as police departments aren’t magically transformed by employing more minority officers, we can’t fix prosecutors’ offices simply be electing or hiring people from different backgrounds. But when prosecutor offices are as diverse as the communities they serve, they bring different skills and perspectives and give fairer consideration to all the factors that should go into prosecutorial decision-making.
Other than increasing diversity, how else could the system be improved?
We need safeguards against prosecutorial power. Strengthening the resources of defense attorneys would be an important step. The vast majority of criminal defendants in the US are represented by appointed counsel, because they’re too poor to hire their own lawyers, and we’ve known for decades that we don’t pay enough to appointed defense attorneys or employ enough of them; they’re overworked and under-resourced. We need to invest more in defense if we want the system to operate properly.
Legislatures can help by rolling back mandatory sentences and by strengthening and clarifying the rules requiring prosecutors to share evidence with defense counsel.
More judicial oversight could also make a big difference. Judges could reclaim some of their power by tightening the rules that require prosecutors to share evidence with the defense. They could force prosecutors to explain and justify their charging decisions and their plea bargaining offers in court. In many courts, judges have the authority to dismiss cases in the interest of justice, such as when prosecutors pursue draconian sentences.
But in order for any of that happen, there would need to be something of a change of judicial mindset; judges would need to believe that prosecutors should be held more accountable, and to believe that it’s part of the business of the judiciary to make that happen.
Finally, there is much that prosecutors themselves can do — and in many places, are doing — to make the system fairer, less discriminatory and less damaging. They don’t need to wait for legislation mandating more disclosure of evidence; they can start doing that on their own. They can stop using unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences to coerce guilty pleas. And they can work to change the cultures of their offices, so that fair outcomes are celebrated and not just courtroom victories.
Is reform on the horizon?
To some extent, yes. We’re in an unusual moment now because there is great attention to reforming prosecutors’ offices through the ballot box. Criminal justice crusaders have devoted more attention to elections over the last decade. As a result, we have a growing number of head prosecutors who’ve won elections based on a platform of pulling back on mass incarceration and seeking a more balanced approach to criminal justice. For the most part, though, this wave of reform isn’t doing anything to reduce the power of prosecutors’ offices.
How significant is the criminal justice reform bill that passed at the federal level in 2018?
It’s a step in the right direction, although it affects only federal prosecutors. The law modestly cuts back on mandatory minimum sentences and allows federal judges to hand down sentences lower than the statutory minimums without any motion from the prosecutor. That means that federal prosecutors, in some cases, won’t have quite as heavy a hammer to use in pressuring defendants to plead guilty. The new law is important symbolically, even for state prosecutors. It’s a signal of the growing consensus in the US that criminal justice has veered too far in the direction of severity, and that tougher isn’t always better.
What if wider reform doesn’t happen?
If there’s no reform, we’ll likely continue to face the dire problems of the criminal justice system: mass incarceration, excessively long sentences, wrongful convictions and racial bias. Prosecutors have helped to create all of these problems, and they have a critical role in solving them.
Major Democratic presidential candidates are talking about considering or paying reparations to the descendants of African Americans who were enslaved. Many of the candidates may simply be engaging in political pandering. Most candidates simply express support for a discussion rather than actual support for reparations. I haven't heard any candidate actually talk about what reparations might look like.
The definition of reparation is making amends by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. The spilling of blood during the Civil War and nearly 10 years of Radical Reconstruction could have been a good start if the federal government had not abandoned efforts to protect former slaves.
When the Declaration of Independence declared "that all men are created equal" in 1776, slaves were 20 percent of the population. Slavery existed in the former colonies and the United States for nearly 250 years, Jim Crow laws for another 90 years. Institutionalized and government-sanctioned discrimination including laws that led to unequal and substandard education, militaristic policing, unjust courts, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression still exist.
My great-grandmother was a slave, my father said how ashamed she was whenever slavery was mentioned. There were no amends made to her or any other slave for their suffering. Her situation directly affected my grandfather, which directly affected my father, which directly affected me, which directly affects my children.
During slavery men, women and children were raped by their straight, gay or pedophile owners. Medical schools used slaves for medical experiments and practiced surgical procedures on slaves. Families were torn apart. People were tortured, maimed, and killed. The worst atrocities imaginable today were legal because people were reduced to mere property.
After the abolition of slavery; convict leasing, peonage, and Jim Crow kept blacks in slave-like conditions. Black Americans lived in terror because the government refused to offer any meaningful protection from angry or jealous white men. Lynchings and other racially motivated killings were common and unpunished. Prosperous Black neighborhoods such as Tulsa, OK, and Rosewood, FL were looted, burned, bombed and land theft was common.
The government engineered a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. Social Security was originally designed to prevent 80% of the black population from participating. Federal housing programs that helped create the white middle class, implemented a redlining system which prevented blacks from benefiting.
Government-sponsored experiments such as Tuskegee and Pruitt Igoe have been revealed. Blacks originally were systematically excluded from U.S. farm bills, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, protection of the right of workers to join labor unions and the G.I. Bill. Law enforcement sabotaged the Civil Rights Movement, In 1972 and 1996 the CIA was linked to drug traffic in black neighborhoods.
The government through legislation, policy, and court decisions actively participated in black oppression. Government inaction encouraged treachery and terrorism so vast it was easy to "keep negroes in their place" effectively eliminating the creation of black opportunity and wealth.
Slave Owner Reparations
In 1833, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said at the National Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia: “If compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.” Garrison may have referenced the 1833 "Slavery Abolition Act" when more than 46,000 British slave owners were compensated for freed slaves.
The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which prohibited slavery in the District, was signed into law on April 16, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln, forcing over 900 slaveholders to free their slaves.
The government paid to slave owners that were loyal to the Union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed. Slaveowners received payment, slaves received nothing.
When you purchase or inherit real estate and other property, you also assume or inherit the debt; mortgages, taxes, and liens attached to the property. For those who directly experienced slavery and Jim Crow who since died, a debt is owed to their estates; and their descendants are the beneficiaries. The government sanctioned slavery; individuals, churches, corporations, universities, and other institutions actively participated. Georgetown University exists today because of slavery.
The partial list of current corporations and institutions that benefited from slavery include:
AIG, Aetna, Bank of America, Brooks Brothers, Brown Brothers Harriman, Brown Unversity, Columbia, CSX, Fleet, Gannet, Georgetown, Havard, JP Morgan Chase, New York Life, Norfolk Southern, Princeton, Tiffany, University of Virginia, Wells Fargo, Yale, and the list goes one.
All White people passively benefited from the wealth and opportunity created by slavery and Jim Crow. White immigrants decreased the overall percentage of black people and diluted the effectiveness of the black vote. Immigrants benefited from opportunities in a country made prosperous off the backs of the enslaved and directly from professions and job denied to blacks.
The political scientist Thomas Craemer calculated the hours worked by enslaved black workers between 1776 and the official end of slavery. He estimates this uncompensated labor totaled between $5.9 and $14.2 trillion in current dollars.
What reparations could look like?
During a discussion with one of my closest friends in response to his skepticism about any workable reparation solutions, I mentioned what I thought to be some simple ways to identify who should benefit and how to implement.
Reparations should be a combination of social, institutional, and economic solutions that are specific to African American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS). No other group of people was legally brought to the United States by force. Congress should exempt reparations from discrimination or racial exclusion statutes or regulations since they are in effect debts owed and not benefits. However, some solutions, especially those related to a fairer criminal justice system, will, directly and indirectly, benefit other groups. White companies supplying building supplies and other durable goods will also directly benefit.
Although others, most notably Native Americans, perhaps are owed reparations, this discussion is limited to the debt owed to the Black ADOS. Other so-called solutions were never exclusive to Blacks.
Equal opportunity solutions may have been well-intentioned, but in reality, were distorted myths. Affirmative Action, for example, benefited white women more than any other group. There was never any real equal opportunity for black people. If there are vast differences in education, access to credit, transportation, housing, medical care and just about everything else, how is anything equal?
Some concepts are easier to construct and implement; those should be worked on first and others more complex solutions later. Solutions should also have incentives to maximize positive impact on the community.
United Nations Recommends Reparations
At the invitation of the U.S. Government, a group of experts from the United Nations visited the country in 2016 to study and make a recommendation concerning people of African Descent.
The Group urged in their report that the United States consider seriously applying a Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations, which includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation. The following statements were included within the report:
Despite these legal and constitutional developments (13th, 14th & 15 amendments), the prevalence of “Jim Crow” laws — laws at the state and local levels that enforced racial segregation and persecution, primarily in the southern states — perpetuated political disenfranchisement, social and economic exploitation, violence and the overall subjugation of people of African descent until the 1960s. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the United States must address. Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable.
Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, a systemic ideology of racism ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to impact negatively on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today.
The Working Group is deeply concerned at the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials, committed with impunity against people of African descent in the United States.
The Working Group is deeply concerned about the low number of cases where police officers have been held accountable for these crimes, despite the evidence.
Killings of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pervasive racial bias in the justice system.
The Working Group was informed that the “War on Drugs” had had a devastating impact on African Americans and that mass incarceration was considered a system of racial control that operated in a similar way to how Jim Crow laws once operated.
The complex organizational structure of the legal system, with the independence of federal, state and county jurisdictions, and the lack of direct applicability of international human rights law and policies, create gaps that impact deeply on the human rights of African Americans.
There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization, and colonialism were crimes against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
Who should be Eligible for Reparations?
In the United States, any person known to have African ancestry was considered Black. This was often called the "one drop rule" and some courts referred to it as the "traceable amount rule". As historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham stated in regard to race, "most people believe that they know it when they see it but arrive at nothing short of confusion when pressed to define it."
In 1860, ninety percent of the four million Black people in the U.S. were slaves. Of the ten percent of free Blacks, its safe to assume that virtually all of them were either former slaves or descendants. Even descendants of the handful of black indentured servants such as Anthony Johnson married slaves or former slaves resulting in every black person at that time having a slave in their ancestry. Most of the nation’s 40 million U.S.-born blacks trace their roots to this population.
Significant voluntary Black immigration to the U.S. did not begin until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Refugee Act of 1980 and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 when immigration policy changed restrictions on foreign-born blacks. Black people that can trace their ancestry to 1960 should be assumed to be ADOS. For example, my 20-year-old son can prove thru birth records that I was born in 1965 and since my parents were born in the 1920s and 1930s; he satisfies the 1960 rule.
Having Black skin creates barriers which even White people understand because most white people would not want to be treated the way Black people are. Some Black ADOS people with fair skin passed as white and thereby obtained some degree of white privilege. However, even they had to endure being separated from their family, listening to derogatory comments, denying who they were and living in fear of being caught. White privilege is misunderstood, it simply means that white people enjoy the benefit of being treated as normal.
Any Black person who is ADOS should be able to benefit from reparations. Regardless of personal achievement or those made by their ancestors; harm whether physically, emotionally, socially or financially was endured. However, the initial concentration of corrective solutions should be aimed at those who are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Those below the poverty line should be among the first to benefit.
Nothing can ever be sufficient restitution for the spiritual, mental, cultural and physical damages inflicted by slavery, Jim Crow and racism. However, something must be done to repair the damage.
The first step should be an official government apology for slavery and its aftermath that acknowledges that harm was done not only to slaves but to their descendants. However, apologies are meaningless without change.
The video below shows the emotional response when a descendant of a former slave owner apologizes to descendants former slaves.
A reparations commission comprising a super majority of ADOS (2/3) should be created to study slavery, the aftermath, the value of uncompensated labor, lost opportunity and pain and suffering. The people who were victims should have the most say in determining what they suffered.
For nearly 250 years Africans and their descendants were denied recognition as members of the human family and were classified in law as non-human, chattel, property, and real estate. This history has inflicted massive psychological trauma upon African descendant populations. As Dr. Joy de Gruy Leary argues, African-Americans are suffering from post-traumatic slave syndrome. Only a reparatory justice approach to truth and educational exposure can begin the process of healing and repair. Part of the dehumanizing process of making a slave was to make Africans descendants hate themselves. Generations of psychological damaged need to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Broadcasting is the most influential industry in the United States. African-Americans were regularly given stereotypic roles that depicted them as lazy, ignorant, and generally derogatory by mass media. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) excluded Black people from ownership of the airways by denying licensing. When the U.S. government first started giving away free licenses in the 1930s, they were distributed exclusively to white, male owners. As technology developed from radio to television and then cable, the same, white-owned companies continued to lead the pack because they could adapt to the new technology fastest. As a result, horrible negative images of black people were transmitted all around the world. As a group, we had no means to counter these images or broadcast information to a national audience. Reparations should include free broadcast licenses. A corporation comprised of shareholders restricted to black churches, black organizations, black entertainers and individual black people should be formed to accept broadcast licenses from the FCC.
Education or should I say miseducation was used as a weapon against Black people during and after slavery. Because knowledge is power, slaves were denied the right to read or write. The slavemaster was able to easily deceive slaves with lies and half-truths. One of the most glaring examples was the "slave bible". A normal "King James" version has 1189 chapters, but the slave bible only contained 232 chapters.
Ironically, even the bible states that reparations for slavery should be provided:
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— deuteronomy 15: 12–15
After slavery, white-controlled, often racist school boards, rather than slave masters directed miseducation of black people. The 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs The Board of Education, made it clear that black schools were so inferior that the quality of education was unconstitutional. Today, 65 years after Brown, the situation is even worse. The cure was worse than the disease. Busing was the primary solution. White schools received even more funding to accommodate black students. Those funds were used to upgrade facilities and programs, while black schools suffered and closed. Many of the most stable and brightest black students were removed along with their positive influence and impact. Some of the best teachers also left. When bussing programs were eliminated, black students were trapped in schools suffering from decades of decline.
Public schools in the U.S. should teach the truth about the horrors of slavery and its aftermath instead of the sanitized whitewashed version usually taught. For example, "The Great Migration" is the general term used to describe how 6 million black people moved north from the south. The whitewashed narrative states better job opportunity was the motivation. In reality, those "migrants" were refugees fleeing terrorism, persecution, violence and were seeking asylum only to find a different form of oppression in the north.
Public school funding should not be based on property taxes. Schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, because of lower property taxes, would remain substandard. These schools provide limited electives, advanced courses, are often in disrepair, have limited supplies, outdated textbooks or may not have books at all. Enrichment and extracurricular programs that help motivate and keep students interested in attending a school such as art, band, choir, drama, sports, student government, debate, robotics, and others won't exist or will be eliminated due to lack of funding.
Free college tuition including books, room and board should be made available to all low-income ADOS students. A small monthly stipend to cover necessary costs such as toiletries, laundry, and personal care items could also be included.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are in the best position to help black students and should receive reparation grants for operating expenses, to improve, modernize and expand their programs and facilities. The improvements will allow HBCUs to attract additional instructors and students. Program expansion should include fields critically needed within the black communities and others where Blacks are underrepresented, for example:
Agricultural programs: that include some sort of land, equipment and operating grant to help create a new generation of black farmers to decrease urban food desserts. Government discrimination caused many Black farmers to lose their farms.
Business: As Black people were increasingly segregated and cut off from the larger white community, black entrepreneurs established flourishing businesses that catered to black customers. The period between 1900 and 1930 has been called the "golden age of black business". Due to jealousy, envy or greed, white Americans including city officials and members of law enforcement destroyed prosperous black businesses and entire communities. Punitive zoning laws, business license denials, and various other tactics were used to prevent black people from opening and operating a business. Grants for entrepreneurial training and business funding should be part of reparations.
Trade education programs: the major trades which include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, heating & cooling and others systematically excluded black people from training and jobs. Quoting a New York Times article, "The building of houses, offices and factories, of bridges and dams and highways, is still largely white man's work in America." Reparation grants should include trade education. Improvement grants to black homeowners in neighborhoods suffering from decades of neglect should be issued. Grants should be restricted to employ the students and graduates of those program and qualified black-owned businesses.
Teacher programs: We need more Black teachers in public schools. Cultural differences and lack of understanding cause white teachers to discipline excessively contributing to the school to prison pipeline. America’s public school population has been majority children of color since 2014. 50.4 million kids were in public schools; in the fall of 2016; 24.6 million (49%) were white and 25.9 million (51%) were kids of color. Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races. About 80 percent of all public school teachers are White, 9 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, and 2 percent were Asian” during the 2015-16 school year. Certification rules and tests and racial bias in hiring are keeping would-be teachers of color out of America’s classrooms. Reparation incentives for black teachers and modifications to certification and hiring processes are needed.
Doctors. nurses and other medical professions: As a child, I vividly remember a large number of black nurses and doctors in St. Louis area hospitals. I'm certain this was due to Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which trained the largest number of black doctors and nurses in the world. Now, Forty years after the hospital's closing, black doctors and nurses are rare finds in hospitals; and when they are found they are often foreign-born.
Lawyers: Howard University's Law School under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston, contributed greatly to the most important civil right legal victories. While nearly 40 percent of incarcerated prisoners are African-American, only 4.8 percent of lawyers are African-American, 88 percent of lawyers are white. The American Bar Association (ABA) was formed in 1878, one year after the reconstruction ended. Prior to the ABA, most practicing lawyers never attended law school. The ABA caused blacks to be excluded from the legal profession by colluding with state governments and courts making it more difficult to become a lawyer. Studies show that white attorneys might have biases that result in less favorable outcomes for their black clients; the same holds true for prosecutors and judges.
Ending mandatory prison sentences and mass incarceration practices which disproportionally affect people of color. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarceration costs an average of more than $31,000 per inmate, per year. There are nearly 2.2 million incarcerated adults, and more than 4.5 million under probation or parole supervision, which cost nearly $4,400 after the sentence is completed. The country would save $3.1 billion per year for every 100,000 people we prevent from being incarcerated and an additional $440 million in probation supervision cost.
Allow felons to vote after finishing their sentences. Once a person has completed their prison sentence, their debt to society at least, in theory, is supposed to be paid. An estimated 6.1 million people in the United States (2.5% of the nation's voting age population, excluding DC) could not vote due to a felony conviction; 7.44% of African Americans in the United States could not vote due to a felony conviction in 2016.
Some of the funds saved by incarcerating fewer people could go towards reparations programs. It's ultimately more beneficial for society to pay for trade school or college than prison.
The federal government encouraged racial housing discrimination by redlining areas containing African-Americans and refusing to guarantee loans in those redlined zones. This lack of access to capital affected the ability of black people to buy, rent or maintain their homes. Redlining triggered white flight, caused neighborhoods to declined, discouraged business and investment in entire communities. Zero or low-interest loans should be made available as part of reparations to purchase homes.
Story of Contract Buyers
Following World War II, Chicago’s South Side had become increasingly overcrowded as African Americans moved from the South in the second wave of the Great Migration. Unable to attain decent and sanitary housing in white neighborhoods because of racially restrictive real estate covenants and mortgage redlining by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), African Americans were confined to the South Side ghetto.
In the 1950s-60s, real estate speculators exploited white homeowners’ fears on the West Side of plummeting real estate values because of neighborhoods that had ethnic change. Realtors went door-to-door to persuade white homeowners to sell because blacks were moving into the neighborhood. In neighborhoods they wished to exploit, “panic-peddling” speculators hired black men to drive beat-up cars with the music blaring and paid black women to push their babies in strollers. Speculators made enormous profits by convincing whites to sell their homes at well-below market value and then reselling to blacks at much higher than market value. Black homebuyers were subject to a “race tax,” as a property would typically be bought from a white homeowner for $10,000 and resold a week later to a black family for $25,000. This contributed to the neighborhood’s population changing from 87% white in 1950 to 91% black in 1960. Similar scenarios occurred in other cities across the county. The video below explains how victims in Chicago organized and fought back.
Black people have been targets of predatory lending and their wealth stripped away because many were forced to pay higher interest rates even with good credit. Even the bankruptcy process became predatory for African-Americas. Direct payments could be made to eliminate or reduce debt.
Many African-Americans have prospered despite systemic racism and racialized barriers placed in their way. Maybe they had to be twice as good to get half as much as their white contemporaries. Regardless, they and their ancestor were wronged. The difference is that some successful black people and their children may have already obtained degrees, houses and the other trappings of success. Direct payments to pay off student loans, mortgage or other debt may be a more practical solution. However, this sort of direct payment might disqualify them from participating in other reparation programs.
Slavery Was A Long Time Ago
Many white people, live on or possess land passed down from generations ago, celebrate the 4th of July, re-enact Civil War battles, scream about monuments and confederate flags being taken down, but tell us to forget slavery because no one alive today was a slave or slave-owner.
African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks were enslaved nearly 250 years but have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.
"It's foolish to let your oppressor tell you that you should forget about the oppression that they inflicted upon you".
When my uncle, Dick Gregory, walked away from millions of dollars in bookings, to actively participate in the civil rights movement, there were family members who had good jobs that didn't understand what the fuss was all about.
Blacks among W.E.B. Dubose's so-called "talented tenth" who are among the best educated and best paid in the African-American community may not believe reparations are necessary, because they themselves are doing well. However, the irony is that even the "talented tenth" would be in better shape if the barriers of racism hadn't prevented even greater success than achieved.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson realized that the more educated black people became, the more they became indoctrinated into the thinking and ways of the white oppressor. "The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worth while, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race." The "Black Card" video below, featuring Candace Owens, demonstrates Dr. Woodson's premise.
In the above video, Ms. Owens acknowledges her grandfather, Robert Owens, endured Jim Crow, the KKK, was forced to work at the age of five on a tobacco plantation, cleaned homes and office buildings for a living eventually owning his own cleaning company. Like many African-American, Robert Owens overcame extreme oppressive conditions, imagine how his life might have been better had he not experienced serious racism including the KKK shooting up his family's home as a child.
Black median household income of $40,232 is about two thirds that of other households. The median wealth of white household is $134,230 vs $11,030 for black households. These figures are direct results of racial oppression and the capacity to create and pass along generational wealth.
Racism created a number of divisions within the Black community, most notably light vs dark skinned, straight hair vs kinky hair, and house vs field slave. The Willie Lynch Letter best illustrates this phenomenon.
Meritorious manumission was a method of freeing or rewarding slaves for "good deeds" such as saving the life of a white person, creating an invention a slave master could profit from, or “snitching” on a slave planning to run away or organize a revolt. Some black people are still willing to sell out their community for financial gain.
Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy.
FDR once said, "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." After World War 2, the Marshall Plan rebuilt parts of Europe including Germany, the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP) revived Japan's economy, and the U.S. helped create Isreal, which became the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. As a country, we know how to stabilize and build economies. So one can assume that the present state of Black America was planned; simply by virtue that no serious efforts were made to stabilize let alone rebuilt economies within the black community. While the U.S. was providing former enemies with economic aid, black veterans who fought those enemies were denied G.I. and other benefits.
Although a vast debt is owed, I don't really expect any meaningful reparations to be paid. The descendants of slave owners and others who benefited economically have no incentive to pay.
Power is not given, it must be taken. How can you expect powerful people to give you the education, training, and resources to take their power away from them?
African descendants of slaves have no means to force the payment of the debt. Usually, a creditor can take a debtor to court, obtain a judgment which is backed by the force of law. Even if reparations were provided, the voluntary payments would be a tiny fraction of the debt owed and couldn't cause any meaningful change.
Slavery existed and racism exists because it is profitable! Being a slum lord is profitable, marketing sub-prime and payday loans is profitable, hiring desperate workers at low wages is profitable and having a population of 45 million black consumers who do not manufacture anything is profitable.
Even if reparations were paid, how long would it take for that money to end right back into the hands of white businesses? We don't manufacture building supplies, houses, furniture, appliances, electronics or even clothes. Everything we need to survive including food, water, electricity, gas, and other basics are supplied by others.
Black churches, Kingdom Halls, Mosques, organizations, and businesses should create a commission and find workable solutions to at least some of the damage caused by centuries of racial oppression. Malcolm X in his "Ballot or the Bullet" speech recommended forgetting religious differences to concentrate on fighting a common enemy and working towards Black Nationalism to control the politics and economy in our own community.
The commission would need to partner to build distribution networks for black businesses and merchandise. There are probably congregation members who provide services or own businesses that their fellow members know nothing about. Imagine if black churches used some of their space to sell products such as soft drinks, baked goods, and other black manufactured goods.
Black Convention Venue
My son, who is a youth minister at his church, for years has attended church conventions in various cities where tens of millions of dollars are spent by attendees. For example, in 2010, the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education's 55,000 attendees spent an estimated $76 million in Detroit. Right here in St. Louis where I live, between 2010 and 2016, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) through it's Holy Convocation injected more than $125 million into the St. Louis economy. Imagine if that money was spent within the black community instead of white-owned hotels, restaurants, and venues.
Black churches, professional organizations, and non-profit organizations could contribute funds for a non-profit corporation to create venues to accommodate member churches and organizations' large meetings and conventions. Black churches alone take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year. This organization could reach out to the African Union and others in the African Diaspora to build alliances, investors and partners.
If the organizational structure ends up being a standard corporation, shares can be made available to congregation and organization members, with members encouraged to support and recommend the venues for vacations and other travel. Discounts should be offered to members of participating organizations.
To start, the most popular convention destinations should be researched and a single start city selected, preferably one with a large black population to help sustain the venues during the initial and growth stages. Land in predominantly black neighborhoods should be selected for development. Member organizations would need to commit to holding conventions and meetings in the start city for a number of years. A black transportation system, similar to Uber, could be organized with a network of black restaurants, entertainment, retailers and other places of interests as target destinations. After the initial start city becomes successful, a secondary city could be selected and the process repeated until about five or six of the most popular destination cities have been developed. African American travelers contributed about $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy in 2018. Imagine capturing just ten percent of that market.
This suggestion needs to be fine-tuned, would require sacrifice and might require member organizations to forgo conventions for a period of time. However, the long term benefits to the organizations and the black community would be monumental.
Even if a national coalition of organizations is not currently feasible, certainly local coalitions could be built to find workable local solutions for community issues. The primary issues in our communities are economic. Until workable solutions are presented to help people, especially our youth get out of poverty, desperate people will continue to find violent solutions to their problems and no catchphrase or slogan will stop them.
I realized some time ago that black people have the greatest need for timely access to quality information, however, those with the information, usually will not share it with others. I've actually seen situations where one non-profit organization would not share with needy clients helpful information about other non-profit organizations. It is my sincere hope that my ideas will spark someone into action to help others.
Although I'm not an attorney, I created this site to distribute free legal information to help those with little or no money to hire an attorney. Multiple systems are rigged against all of us. "United we stand, divided we fall"; let us stand so we can help those who have fallen.
I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be scared of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies".
A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.
Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.
The actual IHOP video can be viewed near the bottom of the this page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.
Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.
These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.
Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.
Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way to hold Mc Donalds, IHOP or others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations.
Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action.
Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.
In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”
Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.
During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority. In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmlandand 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.
In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of Apartheid to one of majority rule and Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.
American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States.
The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching, picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.
Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future.
About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.
The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.
By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made.
Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.”
The video of the arrest is below.
Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies.