Open letter to Black Churches, Organizations, and their members
My late uncle, Dick Gregory, frequently declared that "The black woman and the black church are the two most powerful forces in the history of America." Black women are exercising their power, St. Louis' most visible examples are newly elected US Representative Cori Bush and the progressive St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner. It's way beyond time for the Black Church to assert its power!
I am the author of "Legal Research for Non-Lawyers," and maintain a free self-help legal information site that provides practical resources to help people help themselves. The site and its content are targeted primarily to Black people who can't afford an attorney, however, all visitors are welcome. Lack of legal knowledge and representation are among the black community's greatest obstacles.
I began publishing Court.rchp.com shortly after the 2014 murder of Michael Brown. Although I don't hold the power associated with monetary wealth, I am exercising the individual powers that I do have; time, information, and the ability to publish and reach out to others.
While exercising those powers during a recent research project, a disturbing pattern of institutional racism negatively impacting your members was revealed. Enterprise Rent-A-Car has been accused of not renting luxury cars to African-Americans and instead use tactics to convince them to take lower-level vehicles.
Enterprise is not alone, many of the companies your members patronize practice the same sort of subtle racism. While drafting this letter, a news story aired in the St. Louis area about black women being refused dine-in service at a local Waffle House. However, white customers were allowed to dine in.
When my 92-year-old father saw the Waffle house news story, he stated, "White companies always use black people to clean up their messes", referring to the Black Waffle House Vice President defending the company against racial discrimination claims. I couldn't help but check out Enterprise Holdings Executive Officers and as expected, the only Black Executive was their Diversity Officer.
Earlier this year, we also had an issue with State Farm Insurance company where racial discrimination may have played a part. We believed State Farm was charging us more than similarly situated white drivers and they had planned to unfairly cancel our policies. A formal complaint was filed with the Missouri Department of Insurance and State Farm rescinded the cancelation notice.
A Gallup Poll released last month, asked African Americans whether they had been treated unfairly in the last 30 days.
35% report mistreatment while shopping in a store
About one in five reports unfair treatment in other situations
54% of Black Americans report unfair treatment in at least one situation
Reports of mistreatment higher among Black than Hispanic Americans
Acceptance of subpar treatment invites increasing amounts of racialized mistreatment which ultimately leads to deadly encounters with white citizens and police officers falsely claiming self-defense and being believed.
Two of the largest black church organizations, The National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. and The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) together have over 43,000 congregations with over 12.5 million members in the United States, with millions more in other denominations. Black Americans have an estimated buying power of $1.3 trillion and donate a higher share of their wealth than Whites. If Black America was a country, we would be the 15th largest country by GDP, between #14 Spain and #16 Mexico. Black households on average give away 25 percent more of their income per year than Whites. Black churches take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year, an amount larger than the GDP of 74 nations. Before the pandemic, these two organization's yearly conventions contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to their host cities' local economies. In addition to church donations, nearly two-thirds of Black households donate to community-based organizations and causes, to the tune of $11 billion each year.
The combined membership and financial resources of black church congregations can be a powerful force in the fight against racial discrimination. When people discriminate against us they don't care whether we're Baptist, Catholic, Cogic, AME, Jehovah's Witness, Nation of Islam, or any other denomination, to racist, we're all just black.
Racists have been using a divide and conquer strategy against us for centuries. During slavery, it was field vs house slave, dark vs light-skinned. Divide and conquer is a strategy of maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the strategy. The strategy includes causing rivalries and divisions to prevent smaller groups from linking up to break up existing power structures. Racist institutions have perfected and modernized their methods. However, in the digital era, we're still using the same strategies employed during the 1960s. During the George Floyd protest, the Federal Government targeted Black Lives Matter leaders for prosecution.
As Malcolm X so aptly declared in his 1964, "Ballot or the Bullet" speech, "though Islam is my religious philosophy, my political, economic, and social philosophy is Black Nationalism"…"if we bring up religion we’ll have differences; we’ll have arguments, and we’ll never be able to get together."
Black Faith Union
The combined leaders of your organizations should consider forming a Black Faith Congress (BFC), similar to how African countries formed the African Union (AU). The BFC could even collaborate with black fraternities, professional, and social justice organizations and request membership to the Diaspora Division of the AU. Representatives from participating black denominations could present ideas to form a national strategy to combat the evil that is racism. The BFC could develop a national racism database to record instances of discrimination to reveal which companies and institutions demonstrate a clear pattern of racist policy. Organized sanctions, whether in the form of a boycott, lawsuit, or some other punitive action could be imposed.
The Black Faith Congress or whatever name is chosen could also help formulate a black economic game plan. The BFC could also create a national online database of black talent and black businesses. How many times does one of your members have the solutions to another member's problems, but they have no medium to connect?
You probably have many members with underutilized IT and website development skills that would be happy to work on such a worthwhile project. They might even be able to develop a Black Church peer-to-peer app similar to Uber, Turo, or Airbnb. The possibilities are endless. If the BFC started a credit union or insurance company, I would certainly join.
Funding for such a project could be simple. If each of your member congregations contributed just $25 per month to fund the BFC, in just one year they would have over $12 million to work with. If every congregation member contributed a single dollar each month, that would be over $150 million per year. Member organizations could hold fundraisers to purchase shares in the BFC. BFC shares should be restricted and only made available to your member congregations. Too many of our most promising and valuable assets, BET, Motown, and Johnson Publications (Ebony & Jet) among others for example are now white-owned and controlled. The BFC over time would then pay dividends back to the member congregations.
Additionally, charitable contributions from corporations should be denied, because donations can be used as control mechanisms. If you're dependant on racist corporations for funding, it might prove difficult to call them out on their racism. "Beware of strangers bearing gifts!"
The Internet has provided an opportunity for global reach. The pandemic has forced many of your member congregations to begin streaming their services. Zoom and other similar technologies have eliminated the need for the BFC to regularly meet in person reducing potential travel expenses. The members of your congregations are among the most talented people on the planet. The black church is synonymous with music, praise dance, and drama. Just about every major black artist has shared in interviews that their talent was developed in the black church. However, the black church doesn't receive any financial benefit from the talent they helped to develop. There should be BFC recording studios and movie production crews. People are shooting movies on iPhones. The BFC wouldn't even have to worry about distributions because many of their member congregations have quality screens and sound systems and could become part-time movie theatres.
Tyler Perry, a well-known member of the Black Church, owns the largest film production studio in the United States. The BFC could partner with Perry to create content. Earlier this year, Tyler Perry asked the Black Church what good are you? The BFC could reach out and show him. The BFC could organize and monetize the church's talent into streaming content. They could start by creating a YouTube channel but work to ultimately create its own streaming service that the Black Church controls. How about a show similar to Shark Tank where black church members pitch business ideas to the BFC to fund. The BFC could get a percentage of ownership in the business. Religious organizations pay no taxes on their investments, whether from interest they earn on their investments or in capital gains.
Keep in mind, the Catholic Church is the Biggest Financial Power on Earth. The Vatican has a large number of shares in the most powerful international banks and corporations such as Gulf Oil, Shell, General Motors, General Electric, International Business Machines, etc. They own over 177 million acres of land and that may not include the hundreds of thousands of schools, hospitals, and other special use properties. Catholic churches pay a tax to the Vatican every year.
The BFC if properly executed and managed could bring in billions in additional revenue while also providing valuable service to the community.
In addition to making the private sector accountable, the BFC could create a police misconduct database where members report incidents of racial discrimination and other law enforcement misconduct. Police would no longer be able to hide their miscount reports, at least those made by your members. Those officers could be held accountable and a tool would exist to help identify and eliminate them.
Black church members
My parents were Catholic, my wife's family Pentecostal, my son is an ordained Baptist minister, and I have had close friends that are Muslim or Jewish. They are all kind and loving people who worship the same God, however, they simply have different customs and varied in ideology. Don't allow our difference in faith prevent us from working together to achieve a common good.
An email to some of the largest Black Organizations and Churches will be sent inviting them to freely use these ideas. Share this letter with your church if you believe in this concept. If you're a member of an association of Black Teachers, Black Lawyers, Black Doctors, or a member of a Black Greek, Black Professional, or Black Social Reform organization urge your organization to reach out to form associations with the other organizations. Competition for donations, grants, and other subsidies have divided many Black Organizations. The BFC could function as an affiliate organization similar to United Way serving Black Churches and Organizations.
Some sort of audit mechanism would need to be in place to control corruption. We all know there are those among us who will sell us out for opportunity.
We understand that many congregations and organizations may not be interested. Partnerships can be local, regional, or national. You don't need everyone to participate to achieve success. One hundred years ago "Black Wall Street" was destroyed, lets build another using the Black Church as a foundation. If the pandemic has demonstrated but one lesson, it's "United we stand, divided we fall!"
"Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." – Mathew 12:25
Christopher Hill, Founder/CEO of ManUpGlobal and co-author of the book, "The Re-Factor," recently endured a car rental experience from hell. He was placed on Enterprise Rent-A-Car's do not rent (DNR) list by mistake.
Enterprise and other car rental companies maintain a (DNR) list which is a list of customers who have been forbidden from renting a vehicle for any reason.
Christopher was preparing for ManUpGlobal's Operation Suave when his car became inoperable because of an accident. Below is an interview Christoper did before the event.
Christopher who happens to be my son needed a car immediately and there was a rental car shortage. He eventually found a vehicle at Avis in West County about 20 miles away for $100/day. Christopher drove the Avis vehicle that weekend and to work Monday.
Christopher is an ordained minister, he is employed by a non-profit organization where he teaches classes to incarcerated men transitioning back into society, however, he has never been incarcerated himself or had any major legal issues.
On Monday, May 24, 2021, I searched for a better rate while he was at work and made a car rental reservation on Enterprise.com. I normally rent from their Dellwood location and reserved a midsize there for $82/day. That reservation was canceled after I discover a midsize rate of $38.75/day at the Ladue location.
When Christopher finished working, We met at Avis and drove to the Ladue Enterprise location.
I listed Christopher as an additional driver, but we were informed he was on the do not rent list. Enterprise Rent-A-Car stated that a car Christopher previously rented had been repossessed, which we both knew was untrue. We waited while the agent tried to reach someone, however, Enterprise's corporate offices were closed. The agent told us she would check into the matter the next day and we ended up renting from another company at twice the cost.
Rental that caused Do Not Rent Blacklisting
Christopher rented a car from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car location, 2233 Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis in December 2019, then extended the rental multiple times. On or about January 13, 2020, Christopher returned to the Washington Avenue location to extend his rental and provided his credit/debit card.
The car was returned undamaged on what Christopher thought was the due date, January 29th, his card was charged and he didn't think anything else about the matter. He was never told there was an issue or that he was being added to the DNR list or even that he was in danger of being added to that list.
The vehicle was returned undamaged, the credit/debit card provided was charged and the total fees were paid in full. Since there was no vehicle damage, no outstanding or unpaid fees. It's hard to understand why Christopher was added to the do not rent list.
False Hope for Removal
On May 25th, the Enterprise Rent-A-Car agent called to explained that she confirmed that the vehicle had been repossessed. I knew this information was incorrect. Assuming they mixed up Christopher's rental with someone else; I asked the location of the repossession. I was hoping for some clue which renter's car had been repossessed. The agent checked, called back, and then stated that the car had been returned but that a repo request was made before the vehicle being returned. The agent explained that her boss would call to see about removing Christopher from the do not rent list.
After not hearing from anyone, I phoned back and eventually spoke to a manager who stated Christopher could not be removed from the list. Upon further inquiry, I was provided with information for the Risk Management department.
Before calling Enterprise Risk Management, I phoned the repo company. The owner confirmed that on January 28, 2020, a repo order from Enterprise was received, however, it was canceled less than 24 hours later on January 29th. Enterprise experienced no charges for the canceled repo order according to the owner of the repo company.
Efforts to Resolve
I phoned the manager of Enterprise's Risk Management several times between May 27th and June 9th, but only reached his voicemail. I emailed a detailed message using Enterprise.com's customer service link. I received a response that they needed to hear directly from Christopher, so I forwarded the email.
On June 13th, Christopher contacted Enterprise by email. Explained he wasn't sure how he ended up on the DNR list and because Enterprise's office hours conflicted with his work schedule, he asked his father to look into the DNR list issue. Christoper disclosed he read his father's summary of the incident and the details were correct and to please accept the statement as if it were his own and asked to be promptly removed from the DNR list.
On June 14th, Enterprise apologized for the inconvenience, stated they would engage the management team at Risk Management and that they would contact him soon to provide proper assistance.
On June 25th, Christopher explains he had not heard from anyone. Christopher was approaching the July 3rd deadline for the auto insurance replacement from Hertz. Pandemic supply chain issues caused delays at the auto dealer where Christopher's car was being repaired. The dealer offered to provide him with an Enterprise replacement vehicle beginning on July 3rd. Because the DNR list issue was not resolved, Christopher had to pay to continue the Hertz rental. Hertz continued the rental at the insurance rate (around $26/day including taxes and fees) until August 11th at which time he was charged $975.87.
On August 10th, the dealership reserved a rental from Enterprise since Christopher's car still was not fully repaired. I attempted to reach the manager of Enterprise Risk Management again. The person who answered the phone (TW) explained he was on vacation and would not return until Monday, August 16th.
After explaining the details to TW, she found Christopher's rental record and stated that he had only paid for two days on January 13, 2020, that the car was due back on January 15th, but the vehicle was not returned until January 29th. I disputed that information and wondered if they might have mixed him up with another renter.
She provided me with her email to send some documentation we discussed, however, she stated Christopher would most likely never be removed from the DNR list. She said no one other than the department manager could remove Christopher from the list.
Christopher emailed me copies of his bank statements showing six separate payments to Enterprise Rent-A-Car totaling $1,214.28 concerning the rental resulting in him being blacklisted on Enterprise’s DNR list. (bank statements cutouts shown)
Dec. 19. 2019 $178.75
Jan. 02, 2020 $240.00
Jan. 07, 2020 $170.00
Jan. 13, 2020 $120.00
Jan. 21, 2020 $275.45
Feb. 03, 2020 $230.08
This information among other things was shared with Enterprise on August 11th. I received a response indicating I would be contacted by an area manager and another stating my message has been sent to the Regional Office, and someone would contact me concerning my son's 'do not rent' case. As of the publication of this article, we have not heard from anyone.
The dealership made a reservation in Christopher's name at Enterprise. Since the DNR list issue was not resolved, I had the dealership change the reservation to my name and picked up a vehicle. My wife drove the Enterprise rental and Christopher drove her vehicle. Christopher will not drive the Enterprise rental unless and until he is removed from the DNR list and authorized to drive it.
How the DNR List is Supposed to Work
Supposedly, most drivers don’t have to worry about ending up on a Do Not Rent list. The assumption is that renters are only blacklisted from car rental companies due to avoidable issues like failing to follow the terms of the rental lease, causing unpaid damage to rental cars, or participating in illegal activities. However, Enterprise has been shown to penalize renters for frivolous reasons. One man was added to the DNR list because he shared an address with a former roommate who owed a balance.
There's a Facebook group "Enterprise Rent-A-Car did me wrong", where people share how they have been wronged by Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Several people complained about being unfairly added to the Enterprise's DNR list.
What particularly caught my attention is how many people complained that they only discovered they were on Enterprise's DNR list at the rental counter which seems punitive and retaliatory. I can't imagine the stress of arriving in another city standing in line at the rental counter for a long time so you can attend a funeral, job interview, or some other important function, especially if you're running late, only to be blindsided with the news that you're on the DNR list!
Relevant Facts about Enterprise Rent-A-Car
Enterprise is the largest company of the US car rental Oligopoly which controls over 94% of the market:
AvisBudget Group (owns Avis, Budget, and Payless)
Enterprise Holdings (owns Alamo, Enterprise, and National)
Hertz Global Holdings (owns Dollar, Hertz, and Thrifty)
Enterprise Holdings and its affiliates own nearly 1.7 million cars and trucks, making them the largest car rental service provider in the world measured by revenue and fleet. The company is privately owned by the Taylor family, #48 on Forbes 2020 America's Richest Families List, with a net worth of $7.8 billion. Enterprise dominants the insurance replacement market. According to Auto Rental News at one point Enterprise controlled over 85% of that market.
Jack Taylor (d. 2016) founded Enterprise in 1957. He named the company after the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier he served on as a Navy pilot during World War II.
Jack Taylor's son, Andrew C. Taylor is Executive Chairman of Enterprise Holdings.
Andrew C. Taylor's daughter Chrissy Taylor is the president and CEO of Enterprise.
The St. Louis-based company reported $22.5 billion in revenues for the fiscal year through July 2020, down 13% due to less travel during the pandemic.
Enterprise has 80,000 employees and operates in nearly 100 countries and territories.
The Taylor Family controls two major charitable foundations; the Enterprise Holdings Foundation with over $323 million in assets and the Crawford Taylor Foundation with over $585 million in assets.
A previous negative experience with Enterprise was used as a teachable moment on this site in 2015.
It seems extremely unfair that a company would ban some of its customers for life, sometimes for minor transgressions, however, if you’re placed on a Do Not Rent list for a legitimate reason, you generally don’t have legal recourse against the company, including any right to appeal. When you land on a DNR list of the parent or subsidiary DNR list you are barred from renting from any of the related companies.
When a person is mistakenly placed on a DNR list, there may be remedies available.
Car rental agreements are contracts. Therefore the first step is to look closely at the contract, which usually includes two separate parts.
“The big print giveth and the little print taketh away”
The contract you are given at the rental counter is often a rental summary (big print) which provides the most important details. There's usually a terms and conditions section (little print) that may be accessible thru an internet link, printed on the rear of the contract in small print or attached.
It's been nearly two years since the December 2019 rental resulting in Christopher being listed on the DNR list and he did not have a copy of that contract. Assuming that my August 11th contract is the same as Christopher's prior contact, our discussion will concentrate on what I consider the most relevant parts of the contract concerning the DNR list issue.
Section 1, provides the following definition: “Rental Period” means the period between the time Renter takes possession of Vehicle until Vehicle is returned or recovered and in either case, checked in by Owner. This is an interesting definition since this could be interpreted differently than the dates appearing on the rental summary. The summary portion of my rental contract listed 8-11-2021 as the pickup date and 8-12-2021 as the anticipated return date. When I asked Enterprised about this, I was told the dealership usually rents the vehicle for a single day and then continues to renew the contract each day until the repairs are complete. Therefore, even though the rental summary so far indicates my car is over a week late, the rental is still valid and I have legal possession. A similar situation might have been the source of Enterprise's confusion concerning the January 2020 due date.
Section 4 – outlines the prohibited uses and what the renter shall not allow or do with the vehicle. None of the prohibitions were violated in Christopher's case, therefore, no further discussion is required.
Section 16 – Limitation of Remedy/No Consequential Damages. This may be unenforceable. Consequential damages, also known as "special damages," refers to damages from an indirect result of an event or incident. The difference between direct and consequential damages is not clear. When a generic exclusion of consequential damages is included in contracts without bothering to define what consequential damages are, it is frequently a fact question whether the damages are direct or consequential. Not long ago a federal court held that a contractual provision excluding “consequential damages” is ambiguous.
A breach of contract action includes the following essential elements:
Inclusion on the DNR list would normally indicate a breach of contract. In Christopher's case, Enterprise suffered no damages.
The car dealership repairing Christopher's car uses Enterprise exclusively. That sort of market dominance certainly has created some situational monopolies. Exclusive contracts with a single car rental company can result in serious hardships if your job requires travel. With this in mind, we wondered if there are any legal remedies under the law when placed on a DNR list by mistake?
Missouri law implies a covenant of good faith and fair dealing in every contract. Slone v. Purina Mills, Inc., 927 S.W.2d 358, 368 (Mo.App. 1996). When Enterprise blacklisted Christopher without a valid reason or warning based upon his contracted rental vehicle, Enterprise violated the covenant and therefore breached the contract. Unlike Enterprise, Christopher has suffered damages. He suffered embarrassment, mental anguish, increased rental charges from May 24th, then July 3rd thru August 11th and August 20th; Christopher was forced to rent another vehicle from Hertz to drive to a speaking engagement about 200 miles away.
Since corporations are considered persons under the law when placed on a DRN list by mistake, would it be considered slanderous or libelous since each is a separate entity? We could find no case law concerning this issue and this question may remain unanswered until tested in court.
Car rental companies are public accommodation providers under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 US § 2000. Privately owned businesses and facilities that offer certain goods or services to the public including food, lodging, gasoline, and entertainment are considered public accommodations for purposes of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Federal law prohibits public accommodations from discriminating based on race, color, religion, or national origin. If you believe you have been discriminated against, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, or with the United States attorney in your area. You may also file suit in the U.S. district court.
With this in mind, does a valid reason need to exist before placing members of a protected class on a car rental do not rent list without a clear and convincing reason? Business owners have the right to refuse service to customers for legitimate reasons. Business owners cannot refuse service to protected classes of people based on arbitrary grounds. Reasons must be legitimate enough to hold up in court, otherwise, a rebuttable presumption of discrimination could exist.
Considering the evidence of systemic racism we uncovered at Enterprise, with limited research, we believe it might be possible to make a prima facie case, especially once we conduct further research. To establish a prima facie case for public accommodation discrimination, the complainant must show that he/she: (1) is a member of a protected class, (2) attempted to exercise the right to full benefits and enjoyment of a place of public accommodation, (3) was denied those benefits and enjoyment, and (4) was treated less favorably than similarly situated persons outside her protected class. McCoy v. Homestead Studio Hotels, 390 F. Supp. 2d 577, 583-85 (S.D. Tex. 2005).
While evidence that a person engaged in bad behavior in the past is generally not admissible in court cases, habit evidence is admissible as an exception to this rule. Habit evidence refers to evidence of a repetitive response by a person to particular circumstances. Corporations are considered persons under the law. It is used in court cases for proving how that person would likely act in a similar situation.
We believe we have a valid claim under both state and federal law. We will allow Enterprise a reasonable amount of time to respond before filing suit if we so choose to pursue that option. We will update this page once additional details become available.
Racism at Enterprise
Enterprise CEO Chrissy Taylor published, “We Must Do More, and We Will”, a pledge to help increase racial equity in response to the murder of George Floyd. If sincere, I applaud Ms. Taylor's pledge.
As a black man, I have endured many slights and inconvenience that makes you wonder in the back of your mind if the treatment, lack of attention or service is because of race. This is because black folks have a proverbial institutional knee on their necks.
I don't pretend to know the hearts and minds of others; however, statements, tone, reaction, facial expression, and body language all provide clues. Although bias is often difficult to quantify, to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it."
Institutional racism is embedded through laws, regulations, and customs within society or an organization. It's less perceptible because of its "less overt, far more subtle" nature. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes, and behavior that amount to discrimination through prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. It originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society
Unfortunately, bias and prejudice are innate characteristics—often deeply ingrained and concealed from our own self-examination. The United States Supreme Court recognized this when it said that “[b]ias or prejudice is such an elusive condition of the mind that it is most difficult, if not impossible, to always recognize its existence.” Further, the high court said, bias or prejudice can exist in someone “who was quite positive he had no bias and said that he was perfectly able to decide the question wholly uninfluenced by anything but the evidence.” Crawford v. United States, 212 U.S. 183, 196 (1909).
Our research indicates some Enterprise policies and practices are most likely disproportionately negatively impacting African-Americans and other minorities. Below are some examples.
Miami Beach, FL – 2021
Earlier this year, a man says he was racially profiled at Miami Beach Enterprise Rent-A-Car. After waiting for hours over two days, a white female employee refused to rent him a car and called the police. When the police arrived, it was refreshing to see them take a neutral approach and not automatically believe the false narrative that the black customer was the problem.
Detroit, MI – 2018
Employees of the Enterprise Rent-a-Car at Detroit Metropolitan Airport claim black customers are discriminated against when trying to rent luxury vehicles. White customers were given discounts not available to black customers and code words to distinguish black from white customers were used. The video below provides shocking details.
Baltimore, MD – 2019
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. of Baltimore was ordered to pay more than $16.3 million in lost earnings, benefits, and interest to 2,336 black job applicants who were passed over for the company's management trainee program.
Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), an administrative law judge found that the company—which is a federal contractor—showed a pattern over 10 years of discriminating against black applicants in favor of white applicants. According to the judge, the company's policy had a disparate impact, which means that a seemingly neutral policy was discriminatory in practice.
Alexandra, VA – 2018
Brendalan Jackson, an Enterprise customer in Alexandra, VA stated the following at complaintsboard.com:
"I have had multiple issues with Enterprise but figured that the representatives were having a bad day. I have called out a few situations at enterprise when I truly knew I've been racially profiled; then only to be patronized by Enterprise employees (Station Manager). I have called the customer service deescalation number for assistance; however, never getting my issue resolved (demeaning me further). My husband completed the registration online for me for a premium SUV (Chevrolet Suburban). I know I was racially profiled again on 11/21/18 in Old town Alexandria, Va. When I arrived at the counter there were two Caucasian females both to assist me. When they looked up my information they both looked at each other while I was standing there, one of the females switched the keys on the counter (as if I was blind and did not see them); I inquired if there was an issue? One of the ladies paused and said that both the Tahoe and Suburban vehicles were identically the same. She then continued to switch out the keys from the Suburban to the Tahoe (which had multiple issues). Now keep in mind that this is Thanksgiving Eve and I needed to get on the road to travel home, I didn't know what she was talking about until my husband informed me that the car wasn't a premium car that I was being charged /paying for and told me that I should've received a Suburban. I am an African American female with over 15 years of experience as a Master of Social Work that supervises a clinical program teaching adolescents on this very issue. I am appalled at the very treatment that I have been given as an Enterprise Plus Member and a paying customer of the Corporation. I am officially putting this on our Core Agency Web site to inform all of our over 5, 000 employees of this Metropolitan area. So that they avoid Enterprise and avoid them being humiliated as I have been on 11/21/18 and again another situation with enterprise at DCA on 11/17/18."
Ms. Jackson's complaint was marked resolved, however, we do not know what the resolution was. However, there were at least 27 discrimination complaints on the site including the one from a federal law enforcement officer below.
Tawana – another Enterprise customer stated the following at complaintsboard.com:
"Before arriving at the Enterprise Car Rental desk I called from home to ask what I needed to rent a car and I was told a credit card. I was asked if my credit card was linked to my checking account and I said yes. I was told to bring two bills (utility bills) from home. I brought four or five to be on the safe side. Once I arrived at the desk I presented all of the information that was required of me. The agent went over to another gentleman in the office and they began to whisper, the agent came back and asked if I had any proof that my bills are not past due. The bills that he had were current and had no past due amounts listed on them, which would have proved that they were not past due and were paid. I was the only African American customer in the office at the time, I was told that I had to pull up my bank account online at one of their desks in order for them to see if I paid my bills. They placed me at a desk to do so. I was extremely insulted by this treatment. I am a Federal Officer (Law Enforcement) and I was treated like a criminal."
On October 24, 2000, eight black individuals filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (St. Louis), alleging that their employer, Enterprise Leasing Company of St. Louis and its parent company, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, engaged in racially discriminatory practices in promotion and hiring. The plaintiffs claimed that Enterprise was in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000e), The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (42 U.S.C. § 1981), and portions of the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) RSMO 213.
On May 3, 2002, a judge signed a consent decree which required the Enterprise to pay $2.3 million in damages to the two sub-classes and the named plaintiffs and included injunctive relief requiring the company to make changes in the way it advertises and publicizes available jobs as well as how it communicates with those who are turned down for jobs within the company.
As previously mention, I normally rent from the Dellwood location, however, the May 24th reservation was made with the Ladue location because their cars were more than half off Dellwood pricing. I live in the Ferguson/Dellwood area which is predominantly black. Ladue is 94.1% white and only one percent black. I'm not sure why there was such a difference in pricing between Dellwood and Ladue, however, that fact taken along with other factors support an argument for racial discrimination.
At Enterprise, renters without a ticketed return travel itinerary need to provide a credit card with sufficient funds to cover the cost of their rental plus an additional amount between $200 to $400 based on the rental location. Why? What possible difference could the rental location make in determining how much deposit is required. Are Black renters being charged $400 disproportionately?
We also discovered proof of age discrimination at Enterprise.
2019 – Capital One, Enterprise Ensnared in Facebook Ad Bias Scandal – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found “reasonable cause” to believe Enterprise violated federal anti-discrimination law by restricting job postings on the social network to people of certain ages or genders. In both cases below Enterprise refused to promote anyone over the age of 40; click on cities for details.
The Taylor family owned the Keefe Group, a company profiting off public and private prisons and their prisoners. A 2015 Post Dispatch article, revealed the company has contracts with more than 800 public and private prisons. They are one of the larger players in a cottage industry that handles deposits to prisoner accounts, provides inmates with everything from food and condiments to music players and phone service. The following statements were made in the article: “They find so many ways to milk these people for every penny they can”…“You are talking about people who are extremely poor”, said Michael Campbell, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Alex Friedmann, managing editor of Prison Legal News accused the Keefe Group of price gouging. The day after the first anniversary of the Michael Brown shooting death protestors marched on Enterprise Holdings because of their connection to the Keefe Group.
Months later, the St. Louis Business Journal reported the Taylor family was considering selling the Keefe's Group parent company Centric Group for $900 Million.
Our "Secret Meeting" page discusses the allegations that companies who profited off prisons conspired to target young black men to fill prisons. If your employer requires driving or travel, inclusion on a DNR list could result in job loss. I worked for a transportation company the used Enterprise rentals; if one of our drivers was on the DNR list and unable to drive those trucks, they may have lost their job. Unemployment, financial hardship, and poverty are among the top reasons people commit crimes.
If you are an Enterprise employee and have evidence of discrimination or unfair practices, please contact us.
Alternatives When Black Listed
As we discovered, landing on a DNR list can be a major setback. The first and most obvious alternative is to try another rent from another company not affiliated with the company the place you own their list.
If Enterprise or some other company is your only or lowest cost option, ask a friend or relative to borrow their car and offer to pay for the rental vehicle as a replacement. DO NOT DRIVE THE RENTAL. If the person on the DNR list is allowed to drive the rental, the renter could also end up on the DNR list.
Since three companies control over 94 percent of the car rental market, complain to your US Representative about how they are using their superior bargaining position to create unfair consumer conditions and request new regulations or breaking companies up into separate entities.
Check out Turo, a peer-to-peer car sharing, sort of the Airbnb of car rentals. Renters search for available vehicles listed by people who are willing to rent their vehicle often at prices much lower than car rental companies.
Another possible option if you need a rental for vacation is RvShare.com, where you can rent RVs and motor homes directly from local owners. UPDATE: RV Share became an affiliate advertiser after we published, so booking your RV rental thru the link above helps support this site financially.
I did not want to write this article! Christopher and I made several good faith attempts to resolve this issue, but there comes a point where the ridiculousness of a situation just needs to be called out.
Mistakes happen, I understand that, but what’s important is how those mistakes are handled and Enterprise handled this issue very poorly. Research indicates that for every complaint expressed, there are over 25 unregistered complaints. Many dissatisfied customers just quietly take their business elsewhere. When you are the largest company in an Oligopoly that statistic may not be as meaningful.
We have had to expend too much effort trying to resolve an issue that never should have occurred in the first place. This situation has caused financial hardship, embarrassment, major inconvenience, and wasted a great deal of time.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car expended great effort explaining and justifying why Christopher was on the DNR list, but virtually no effort was expended to see if a mistake was made. I was told that it is not possible for Christopher to be removed from the DNR list and if that is true, it is unconscionable that Enterprise does not even consider correcting its mistakes or letting customers make amends.
As things stand now, avoiding Enterprise completely may not be possible. That is assuming they do not blacklist me on the DNR list for publishing this article. Enterprise Rent-A-Car may be the only option when a third party is providing a rental car. Enterprise will no longer be my primary choice for car rentals and I plan on doing a test rental on Turo in the future.
When Phylicia Rashad tweeted, “A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”, she was absolutely correct! It's unfortunate she felt pressure to apologize for telling the truth! However, the terrible wrong can never truely be righted because Bill Cosby and his family can never regain his lost time spent in prison!
Because of assurances from Bruce L. Castor Jr. who was then the Montgomery County, Pa. district attorney, Dr. Bill Cosby sat for depositions in a lawsuit filed against him by Andrea Constand, which he paid her $3.38 million to settle in 2006.
The reason Court.rchp.com exist is to help educate black people about the law and to help them help themselves in a court of law by acting as their own attorney when no other option exist. This case illustrates how even a rich black man can become a victim of mass incarceration. Bill Cosby probably would never have served a single day in jail if he was a wealthy white man. For those that might want to compare Dr. Cosby's case to Harvey Weinstein's, the circumstances and weight of evidence were totally different. There was nothing in the Weinstein case to indicate that the charges should not have been filed.
Applying common sense, most likely at some point, Mr. Castor and Ms. Constand had a discussion where he explained there was not enough evidence to get a conviction and that he would be willing to waive prosecution so that her civil suit could move forward and she agreed. If so, Constand knowingly chose money over criminal prosecution. Kevin Steele, a subsequent district attorney reversed Mr. Castor’s decision and charged the entertainer with assaulting Ms. Constand.
If not but for the assurance not to prosecute, Dr. Cosby certainly would have exercised his fifth amendment right to not self incriminate. Cosby never admitted to sexual abuse, he simply admitted that he had at one time given women he wanted to have sex with quaaludes. Read the deposition for yourself, the topic of quaaludes begin on page eight of the pdf file (page 5 of the deposition). Providing the quaaludes would probably have been illegal under the drug laws and therefore incriminating, which was mentioned in the deposition.
Here is a list of miscarriages of justice:
The prosecutor's promise was not honored.
Bill Cosby's deposition should never have been made public.
Bill Cosby should never have been charged.
The judge should have dismissed the case and a trial should never have taken place.
Andrea Constand should not have been allowed to violate her confidentiality agreement.
A second trial certainly shouldn't have taken place
Testimony by women excluded during the first trial should not have been allowed in the second trial.
Bill Cosby should not have been denied bail while his case was on appeal.
Bill Cosby should never have done one day in jail, because he was never legitimately found guilty of any crime.
Bill Cosby should have been released during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Bill Cosby could have died or been killed while in prison before being exonerated.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty
The cornerstone of our criminal justice system is presumption of innocense until proven guilty. The state failed to legitimately prove Bill Cosby guilty, therefore he is innocent.
Judge Joe Brown explains why Bill Cosby is innocent:
The Pennsyvana Supreme Court stated the following in their decision concerning the Cosby case, “We hold that, when a prosecutor makes an unconditional promise of non-prosecution, and when the defendant relies upon that guarantee to the detriment of his constitutional right not to testify, the principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced,”. The Supreme Court's decision restores Bill Cosby's innocent status under the law.
Many of the points I made in a 2015 article concerning Bill Cosby are relevant. I don't know who is telling the truth, however, it's common knowledge that many women submitted to the casting couch to become actresses. It's hard to apply a current standard to the past. Today, the standard is for a woman to stand in her truth, however, a different standard existed years ago. It's not my intention to be insensitive to the accusors, but most of the accusors didn't come forward until after their statute of limitations had expired. The statute of limitations is the legal equivalent of "speak now or forever hold your peace," at least in a court of law. The statute of limitations for sexual offenses in 2015 ranged between 5-20 years, however, 16 states had no statute of limitations for rape. I guess we are to assume Cosby chose not to pursue any women from those 16 states.
I must also be mindful of the proverb, "hell has no furry like a woman's scorn," which may be sexist by today's standard, but still might be relevant. Some people are particulary attracted to celebrity. It's conceivable that some of the accusors willingly participated in exchange for the promise of a a career that never materialized or a continued relationship only to be slighted. Some accusors may have simply jumped on the bus for notoriety, social media fame or monetary gain. People do lie and sometimes there are misunderstandings about what happened; which is why allegations must be proven in court.
Andrea Constand sold her right "speak now" in a court of law for $3.38 million when she signed that confidentiality agreement. That is a proven fact, however, the accusors have proven nothing! Regardless of what the court of public opinion has determined, Dr. Cosby is innocent under the law and by that standard, Phylicia Rashad's statement was true.
Court.rchp.com editorial note: Behavior by other police departments can provide insight into our local police force. A state audit released four months ago revealed that about 1,200 police officers were paid around $14 million in overtime pay; which averages more than $11,600 per officer. Eight employees doubled their salary using overtime, and an additional 99 earned at least an extra 50% of their base salary with overtime. Keep those figures in mind as you read the following article.
by Joshua Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien
One summer night in 2015, a community college student was driving home through East New York in Brooklyn when two women on a street corner waved for him to stop.
He thought they might need help, so he pulled over and cracked his window. But the pair had something else in mind. “Do you want to have some fun?” he recalled one of them saying. “Whoa, no thank you!” he responded, and drove off, laughing to himself. It was like something he’d seen only on TV.
The 21-year-old, who is Black, made it a few blocks before police yanked him out of his car and began to search him. Terrified and unsure of what was happening, he insisted they had the wrong guy. Officers yelled at him to “shut the fuck up.”
The women were undercover police officers. He was under arrest for patronizing a prostitute. The police put him in a van, where he sat handcuffed for hours as it filled with other Black and brown men.
It was one of the New York Police Department’s biggest stings since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, the direct outcome of a strategy he and top cops have touted in recent years to combat human trafficking: Officers should arrest “the true criminals” like “johns” and “pimps,” while making sure people forced into prostitution get the help they need to get out.
On the ground, the reality has been different from the rhetoric. Teams of NYPD officers have descended on minority neighborhoods, leaning into car windows and knocking on apartment doors, trying to get men and women to say the magic words: agreeing to exchange sex for money. These arrests are based almost entirely on the word of cops, who say they are incentivized to round up as many “bodies” as they can.
Some of their targets were selling sex to survive; others were minding their own business. Almost everyone arrested for these crimes in the last four years is nonwhite, a ProPublica data analysis shows: 89% of the 1,800 charged with prostitution; 93% of the 3,000 accused of trying to buy sex.
Of the dozens of cops, lawyers and other experts ProPublica interviewed for this story, not a single one believes arrest figures for patronizing a prostitute accurately reflect the racial makeup of those who buy sex in New York City.
“I know for a fact that white men are the key demographic,” said Meredith Dank, a research professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who, along with her colleagues, has interviewed more than 600 young people who trade sex in the city. In one study, 65% said their main clients are white.
People living paycheck to paycheck lost their jobs over crimes they swore never happened. But facing multiple court hearings and the threat of jail time, they took quick deals to move on with their lives. A former officer who worked undercover told ProPublica she participated in false arrests. Others acknowledged the system could let them slip through.
The problems became clear in interviews with 36 current and former officers and dozens of defendants, prosecutors and defense attorneys; weeks of observing court proceedings; and a review of hundreds of pages of sealed court records.
ProPublica delved into the work of one officer, identified in official documents as Undercover 157, whose cases are replete with allegations of false arrest and sexual misconduct that were never aired in court. Defense attorneys filed complaints with the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD almost three years ago, which still considers it an “ongoing matter.” In a statement, the NYPD defended the undercover officer as a veteran “with approximately 1,800 successful buys and no complaints against him at the NYPD or with the Civilian Complaint Review Board.” (The department later clarified this meant no active complaints.)
Even for a department accused in recent months of acting with impunity, those policing New York’s sex trade appear to operate in an extreme vacuum of accountability. The CCRB, originally created to investigate police misconduct against communities of color, does not address allegations of false arrest and is still trying to gain authority to examine those involving sexual abuse.
In the rare instances when defendants sue, the cases are often settled before officers have to testify.
Since 2014, the city has paid more than a million in taxpayer dollars to at least 20 people who claimed they were falsely arrested in prostitution or “john” stings. Last year, it paid $150,000 to five young Latino men who said they were laughing off a proposition when they were arrested and $20,000 to a West African taxi driver who said in a sworn deposition that he was walking home when a woman asked if he’d walk down the block with her. He told ProPublica he thought she was afraid of walking alone, so he agreed. He was then arrested.
The undercover officer in his case netted 10 arrests in three and a half hours the night she encountered him, earning her four hours of overtime pay.
Eighteen current and former officers who policed the sale of sex in New York City said overtime has motivated them for years. The hours add up over the drive to the precinct, the questioning, the paperwork. “You arrest 10 girls, now the whole team’s making eight hours of overtime,” retired Sgt. Stephen Antiuk said.
“That’s what it was all about, making money, from the lieutenant to the sergeant on down,” retired Detective John Kopack said. “You want to eat? You guys want to make some money tonight? Make some arrests, do what you got to do.”
The NYPD did not respond to ProPublica’s detailed questions about overtime or the specific incidents in this story. Sgt. Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokeswoman, said the department “maintains heightened vigilance and robust oversight over all of its undercover operations.” NYPD spokesman Al Baker said police shifted their prostitution strategy in 2017, leading to fewer arrests of sex workers, more of “johns” and a greater focus on “pimps.” He noted that selling sex is still illegal and the department “deploys officers where residents report crime” without consideration of race or ethnicity.
As New York City’s crime rate fell to record lows in recent years, the NYPD continued to draw criticism for its outsized presence in minority neighborhoods, arresting tens of thousands of Black and Latino people on minor, nonviolent infractions. This dynamic inspired calls over the summer to “defund the police,” a slogan that depicts the department as an occupying force, disproportionately ensnaring people of color in the criminal justice system.
The statistics for arrests involving the sale of sex reflect a particularly stark example of this trend.
While complaints about prostitution have long been scattered across neighborhoods of all races, arrests for buying sex are not. ProPublica found that in majority Black and Latino areas, police have arrested over three times as many alleged sex buyers as in whiter neighborhoods despite comparable complaints about prostitution and arrests of alleged sex workers in each.
Michele Alexander, who is Black, sometimes worked undercover out of a precinct in Jamaica, Queens, before she retired in 2012. “When are we going to Manhattan?” she recalls asking her supervisor, after working too many sex buyer stings where the men all looked the same. “Negroes aren’t the only ones who buy vagina.” As punishment, she said she was reassigned to an early morning tour monitoring a Manhattan subway station.
Paul Lichtbraun, a retired captain who oversaw vice in Manhattan and the Bronx until 2017, said his unit often focused on buyers, but when it received complaints about prostitution inside high-end Manhattan hotels, they’d only go after sex workers. “If I start arresting their paying customers, [the hotel’s] going to ask me to leave,” he said. “Are there always people who get off in this world? Of course there are.”
Then, there is the community college student, stopped in a majority-Black neighborhood in Brooklyn that saw more buyer arrests in the past few years than all of Manhattan and Staten Island combined. Refusing to take a plea deal, he trekked to and from court for seven months. The prosecutor ultimately dropped the charges.
The young man sued for false arrest and won a $15,000 settlement. But he lost something more fundamental, his ability to trust.
“When I see people on the street, asking for a jump or whatever, I just keep going,” he told ProPublica. “Can you imagine if it was really two girls on the corner waving for help? You just lost one guy who would stop.”
Whether police target sex workers or their clients, operations look much the same. Field teams of anywhere from eight to 16 officers are dispatched with the aim of securing verbal agreements of sex for money.
They often start with community complaints called “kites.” When there are none to follow, there are “strolls” or “tracks,” dark stretches in industrial sections of East New York or along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens where sex is bought and sold, noon and night. Massage parlors can be easy targets; words need not be spoken. Money lands on a table, there is a gesture in the motion of manual sex, a subtle nod in return.
Sometimes, no money is involved at all. “There has to be an exchange of a benefit,” said former Sgt. Louis Failla. He told the story of an undercover who once “made a deal with a crack prostitute on the street for a hamburger and fries from McDonald’s.” He always found it “humorous,” he said, “what these women would do just to get a few dollars.”
Current and former undercover officers told ProPublica there’s an art to convincing their targets they aren’t cops. Some dirty their fingernails or rub newspaper on their knees to make it look like they’ve been providing oral sex on the street. One said that if a woman insisted he touch her breasts, he would do so, but he would never squeeze.
Sometimes, officers go in to arrest a woman and find she’s completely naked. Antiuk, the retired sergeant, laughed while describing the perks of the job. “The undercover can have a nice, cold beer and watch a girl take her clothes off — and he’s getting paid for it.”
Once the deal is made, the undercover signals that it’s time for the arrest. While backup officers can sometimes hear the incriminating conversations through a wireless device, they are not required to record. Some teams have come in after getting a signal from the undercover officer, having heard nothing of the exchange.
That trust can be exploited.
Jazmia Inserillo, who retired as an NYPD officer in 2016, told ProPublica she participated in false arrests as an undercover officer without her backup team listening in. Sometimes, a young man would stop to flirt but hadn’t agreed to pay for sex before he was arrested. Once, a man pulled up and told the undercovers, “I know you the police,” she recalled. “And because he’s just talking, they just give the signal.”
Twice, men were clearly lost and stopped to ask for directions. “You’re not lost. You know what you came here for,” Inserillo remembers her partner saying one night. “What do you want, you looking for a blowjob?”
The man said he was looking for a street but couldn’t find it in the dark. As the three went back and forth, Inserillo remembered her partner lifting her back leg and leaning into the car, a signal to a backup team to initiate an arrest. “This girl puts her foot up while I’m in the middle of talking to him about cross streets,” Inserillo said.
“And I look up at my lieutenant trying to signal no. But he didn’t really understand because we didn’t have a signal for no.”
She said she’d brought up another bad arrest to a supervisor, but he ignored it.
John Hart, who was her lieutenant at that time and is now a deputy chief, told ProPublica no one in his unit ever mentioned false arrests to him. Inserillo later filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against a different superior officer over an unrelated incident, saying she endured retaliation for reporting him. She won a $112,500 settlement.
The department has had the equipment to covertly record agreements between undercover officers and targets for at least 20 years, but it does so inconsistently. Some officers told ProPublica their supervisors required them to record; others said they never taped a single arrest.
“Almost none of these cases ever go to a courtroom, so that’s the reason recording was not a priority,” said Lichtbraun, the retired captain. “In vice, they weren’t always recorded. Frankly, they very often were not.”
In 2016, a civil rights attorney asked a federal judge for an injunction that would forbid the department from making buyer arrests without recording them. Gabriel Harvis was representing a Black man arrested outside of a post office after being propositioned while getting a package from the trunk of his car. The man insisted he declined the sex offer, sued for false arrest and won $85,000. But the case settled before the injunction could be considered.
Oren Yaniv, a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors there did not know operations were sometimes recorded until ProPublica contacted them earlier this year. The office has handled more than 2,000 prostitution and patronizing cases since 2015.
Now that the office is aware of the recordings, Yaniv said, “we sometimes use and disclose them in cases we prosecute — those against pimps and traffickers. As in every case, if the police account raises questions or if we receive any information alleging problems with the arrest, we investigate further.”
The NYPD did not answer questions about when officers make recordings or why they choose not to. “For obvious safety and evidentiary reasons, the NYPD never discloses specifics of our tradecraft or investigatory methods in undercover cases.”
One officer, known only as Undercover 157, has developed a reputation among defense attorneys for the stories they hear about him from their clients. In multiple cases, the defendants said they never agreed to sell sex for money and thought the man with the confident smile and well-kept dreadlocks was courting them for a date.
One woman told her lawyers he had been texting her for days when she got into his car one cold, winter afternoon after he offered to drive her to the pharmacy to get asthma medication for her daughter. She said he took her to a hotel parking lot instead, near the shelter where she was staying, and offered her $100 for oral sex. She said she declined at least twice but was arrested anyway.
A young man thought the stranger was interested in him when they locked eyes out in East New York. They traded numbers and, for three straight days, exchanged heated, flirtatious messages that made no mention of money. When they met for a hook-up, his sexting companion asked if he wanted to get something to eat first. He declined; the man shoved a fistful of dollars at him, saying, “Here, take this to eat later.” Then a squad car pulled up.
In early 2018, these stories along with four others were submitted in two letters from the Legal Aid Society to the NYPD inspector general. “These incidents demonstrate a serious lack of training, protocol and supervision of Undercover 157, the units he is working with, as well as the supervising officers’ abandonment of any duty to review his arrests or monitor the outcomes of his arrests,” the letter said.
In addition to the letters, ProPublica obtained records of arrests made by Undercover 157 between 2015 and 2019 from more than 80 sealed court cases.
Seventeen women complained to their attorneys of inappropriate touching or worse. One said he penetrated her vagina with his finger, then washed his hands before officers arrived. Another said she performed oral sex on him and was arrested the next time she saw him. A third said she was in “only panties” as they danced and smoked marijuana for about 15 minutes and that he touched her vagina. A fourth, who sells sex to support her heroin addiction, told ProPublica he asked her to get completely naked and grabbed her buttocks. “He didn’t have to go to that extent,” she said.
The records show just how difficult it can be to investigate such claims. Only three of the complainants agreed to meet with the inspector general. Nearly three years later, Legal Aid is still waiting for the inquiry to conclude.
None of these allegations were ever aired before a judge. In New York City, prostitution cases are processed in Human Trafficking Intervention Court, which is supposed to help rather than punish people in the sex trade. But it functions a bit like a conveyer belt, where defendants quickly agree to counseling sessions to provide “exit strategies” out of the sex trade. If they complete them and avoid arrest, their charges are dismissed and cases are sealed.
Three former prosecutors who worked in the court told ProPublica they juggled so many cases that even if an arrest seemed flawed, they were unlikely to report it.
Cases against people accused of trying to buy sex in New York City fly through misdemeanor court at a similar clip. They almost always end with plea deals for more minor offenses like disorderly conduct or are simply dismissed. From 2015 through 2019, the court processed more than 4,100 of these cases. Only one person took his to trial. He won.
Two defendants have tried to force Undercover 157 to answer for his arrests in recent years.
In 2017, a woman accused of prostitution made the rare decision to take her case to trial. Undercover 157 was announced as the first witness. But on the day he was set to testify, prosecutor Abraham Jacob Jeger revised his initial offer: If the defendant was not arrested for six months, the charge would be sealed and dismissed, no counseling necessary. The detective never had to take the stand.
In an emailed response, Jeger said he and his supervisors made “a cost-benefit analysis and decided that it was not worth revealing this undercover’s identity” to those in court. He referred further questions to the Queens District Attorney’s Office, which said it could not comment on sealed cases.
In a 2018 case, Jillian Modzeleski, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, filed a unique legal motion called a Gissendanner, which would allow the defendant access to Undercover 157’s disciplinary records if a judge found them “relevant and material” to the case. She cited the pattern of false arrest allegations against him and his fellow officers.
Before a judge could rule on the motion, the Brooklyn DA dropped all charges. The DA would not comment on cases in this story because they are all sealed.
The NYPD also declined to discuss the detective’s cases. “We do not speak about ongoing investigations or matters in litigation. We are making only a slight exception in your case by noting that the narrative, as you presented, is not entirely accurate,” said Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, referring to an extensive summary of the false arrest and sexual misconduct allegations in this story. “We are unable to comment further.”
The department initially said Undercover 157 was an officer “with no complaints.” But the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau had indeed gotten one in November 2014:
An undocumented woman from China reported that the detective undressed her and touched her breasts and vagina at an informal massage parlor in Queens. She told investigators that when the backup team arrived, they handcuffed her and walked her through the massage parlor naked. She said she begged them to let her get dressed, but they refused. One took a photo of her.
ProPublica spoke to three attorneys involved: Lauren Hersh, who helped set up the meeting with investigators; Rosie Wang, who interpreted and kept notes; and Leigh Latimer, who represented the woman on the prostitution charge and spoke with her again last week. Court records identify the undercover officer behind her arrest as 157.
Wang said the investigators asked the woman to pick the detective out of a photo array. It had been a year since her arrest and she was unable to do so. Five months later, IAB got in touch to set up a second interview. The woman declined, saying she was tired of revisiting the traumatic experience. The department, which confirmed its investigation when ProPublica asked about it, said it closed the complaint without disciplining him.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services later granted her legal status as a trafficking victim, finding that she had been forced into sex work at the massage parlor.
ProPublica reporters were unable to learn the name of Undercover 157 to investigate him further, but they spoke with four former cops who worked with the detective. All were skeptical about the allegations. One said the detective was regarded as a “superstar” because of how good he was at convincing people to engage. But another, who trailed him as a “ghost” on dozens of arrests, said the detective rarely used a radio and usually texted or sent a signal through another wireless device instead. He said he couldn’t hear what transpired between Undercover 157 and his targets. “I was a ghost with no ears.”
After months of reporting, ProPublica was able to listen to a recording of an operation in which the defendant claimed she was falsely arrested by Undercover 157. It was made in late 2018, after the Legal Aid complaints and attempts to bring the detective to court. The audio evidence refuted her story, but it raised other questions.
Her attorney had no idea the recording existed; it was never shared before the woman’s case was sealed and dismissed. “The fact that these secret tapes exist means that the NYPD has broken the law by concealing evidence,” said Modzeleski, her attorney. “This revelation demands an investigation.” The department did not answer questions about the recording or whether it will investigate the failure to turn it over.
The recording offers a rare window into how such arrests unfold.
In October 2018, Undercover 157 knocked on the door of an East New York apartment six weeks after someone complained that the woman inside was selling sex. The 27-year-old single mother had lived there for eight months after years of instability and stints in a shelter. Through the door, he tried to convince her to do business.
“Excuse me,” she replied, “I said no. I do not know you. I have children here. No.”
In the recording, she could be heard saying ‘no’ or ‘bye’ or telling him to leave 12 times. At one point, the conversation went silent and she seemed to step away. His loud knocking resumed. “Yo!” he called out. She replied, “Stop knocking on my door.”
He persisted, feigning exasperation until she gave in. It’s unclear from the recording who brought up money first, but eventually, she asked him how much he had. He increased his offer until she agreed to let him in, raising the cash in front of her peephole at her request.
An infant could be heard crying in the background as he asked for anal sex. She told him she didn’t want to be hurt. “Are you going to be rough?” she asked.
She checked on the baby, who was now screaming. Then came another knock on the door, a banging this time.
The backup team stormed in. One shouted at her to get on the floor. She was so panicked, she said, she urinated on herself.
At least five cops were involved in the arrest. She was charged with prostitution and endangering the welfare of a child. The city’s child welfare agency removed her children and she lost custody for two months.
Almost every officer interviewed for this story said their work did little to reduce the amount of sex sold in New York City, improve the lives of those selling it or help catch criminals who force people into it.
At best, officers said, low-level prostitution arrests can temporarily assuage community complaints about noise and public sex acts, but the trade just reemerges elsewhere. “If you’re always putting a team of 10 detectives and some bosses on a corner once a week, it’s just a waste of funds,” retired Detective Efrain Collado said.
He joined vice to gain investigative experience and make a positive impact, but he became disillusioned during repeated assignments to arrest women outside three large homeless shelters near vice’s Brooklyn North headquarters.
It felt like he was kicking desperate people when they were down. “It’s a waste of time,” Collado said. “A revolving door.”
Several current and former officers described vice as a neglected stepchild within the department. With only sporadic attention from the top brass and limited opportunities to pursue traffickers, they said it draws rookies looking to make detective and keeps washouts no one else wants.
“We’re considered bottom feeders — put us in the back room in the basement,” said Antiuk, the retired sergeant. “The morale goes to a point where it becomes how many arrests are we going to make and how much overtime are we going to get. You didn’t give a shit about some of these girls.”
Former Det. Ludwig Paz is serving a prison sentence of up to 12 years for running a prostitution ring involving as many as eight locations. He recruited several officers, including his former vice partner, to help protect it. Failla, the former sergeant, was fired last year after he was implicated in the scheme; he said he was an unwitting participant, passing on intel Paz used to protect his operation.
It was the latest in a long line of scandals involving the NYPD and the sex trade. Officers have been caught exploiting or protecting the trade about once or twice a decade going back to the 1972 Knapp Commission, which found that bribes from brothel operators and other criminals were widespread in the department and that a number of locations offered half-priced sex to police in exchange for protection.
Two competing measures are being discussed by state legislators, aiming to end prostitution arrests and the trouble that surrounds them.
“Full decriminalization” would remove criminal penalties for buying or selling sex. Supporters argue that sex for money is a victimless crime so long as the transactions take place between two consenting adults. They say laws primarily impact poor people of color and only make life for sex workers more dangerous.
Kopack, who worked on trafficking investigations and street-level enforcement, echoed the sentiment, saying the threat of prostitution arrests can make life easier for traffickers, because those they exploit are less likely to seek help. “They get the shit beaten out of them, but they know if the cops come, they’re going to get arrested.”
The “Equality Model” would keep penalties in place for buying sex but decriminalize selling it. Proponents believe that while sex workers should be treated as victims, not criminals, the government should still aim to abolish the sex trade, which they say can too easily lead to rape and other abuses. If buying sex is legal, they argue, more men will do so, which would increase trafficking.
Trafficking, sex with minors and various forms of coercion or promotion would remain illegal under either policy. The full decriminalization bill is stuck in New York Senate and Assembly committees. Lawmakers who support the “Equality Model” say they plan to introduce counter legislation in the next year or so.
De Blasio hasn’t taken a position on whether the law should be changed, but he had to confront the issue after the 2019 death of Layleen Polanco.
The 27-year-old transgender woman had been arrested for allegedly agreeing to perform oral sex on an undercover officer and then failed to show up at the court designed to help sex workers, resulting in a bench warrant. She was arrested on a separate charge and sent to Rikers Island because she couldn’t afford the $500 bail set for having missed appearances on the prostitution charge. She had a seizure in a solitary cell and died.
Seventeen corrections officers were disciplined after a report showed how guards left her unattended while she needed medical attention. Her family sued and won a $5.9 million settlement. Decriminalization activists, members of the LGBTQ community and public officials like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blamed the death on a system that targets and traps people who are already poor and marginalized.
When a reporter from The City, a local nonprofit news organization, asked de Blasio about the case in September, he made news with his response: “To the question of whether sex workers should be arrested, my broad answer is no.”
In response to questions for this story, de Blasio’s spokeswoman Avery Cohen did not take a position on the criminalization of sex work or respond to questions about racial disparities in enforcement. She underscored that sex workers are no longer “the key targets of arrest” and said, “Whether it’s through state legislation or through city policy, we are working to end exploitation and aid survivors of human trafficking. The NYPD Vice Unit will conduct itself in a way that reflects this goal.”
Prostitution arrests began to decline in 2017 when New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill promised to shift resources toward traffickers and buyers. “Make no mistake, this is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world, but the NYPD will not allow it to fester,” he said, announcing the addition of 25 vice officers to “conduct initial screening in trafficking cases.”
But two officers who worked in vice at the time told ProPublica that the promise belied the way it was carried out. The department sent its least experienced officers, so-called white shields who occupy the lowest rank. According to the two officers, the new additions went after sex workers and their customers, not traffickers.
A separate anti-trafficking unit, which had fewer than 10 members, regularly had to turn down leads. With the unit short on personnel, Collado said, even experienced anti-trafficking detectives like himself had to focus mostly on “low-hanging fruit” rather than genuine trafficking networks. Arrests where the top charge is sex trafficking have increased only slightly in recent years, peaking at 55 in 2018, according to city data on violations of New York state law.
“There are no resources and there is no real investment,” said Anila Duro, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a member of the federally funded Human Trafficking Task Force at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, citing conversations with current officers.
Baker, the NYPD spokesman, countered that assessment, defending the department’s emphasis on trafficking and portraying vice as a unit of dedicated officers doing meaningful work. He confirmed that the 25 investigators were white shields but said they were “specially trained to investigate complaints of human trafficking and to conduct enforcement and build strong cases.” He said the move increased vice’s staffing to 114, but it’s now down to 96 because the department has had to respond to other pressing matters, like upticks in violent crime, protests and the coronavirus pandemic. Since April, there have been just 22 arrests for prostitution and 87 for patronizing.
He also emphasized the work of two federal partnerships dedicated to trafficking, one with the FBI, which includes nine NYPD officers, and another with the Department of Homeland Security, which he said has seven. He said that the vice human trafficking unit still includes nine officers. Combined, that equals 25, which he said “represents a stable commitment to the vision articulated in 2017.”
Baker said there have been over 4,500 emergency calls regarding prostitution since 2016 and there are approximately 30 “tracks” that “generate complaints routinely from residents.” He sent statistics showing that prostitution-related arrests overall have decreased, but that those of “pimps” now account for a larger proportion, from 8% in 2015 to 12% in 2019. As evidence of the department’s anti-trafficking work, he pointed to severalbusts from recent years, including the arrest of a man last week for allegedly trafficking underage girls across county lines.
Collado said his experience in vice’s anti-trafficking unit did not reflect a real commitment to pursuing criminals who force people into prostitution. He said that in his two years on the unit ending in 2018, he only got to work on one serious investigation. It stalled, partly because it was left only to him and one other detective. The case involves dozens of women. He said his partner is still working on it, two years after Collado retired.
“You’re not going to get traffickers the way they’re doing it,” Collado told ProPublica. “Change has got to come from the top.”
This year, amid a national outcry over police violence, the conversation turned to reducing budgets as a way to force reform. Overtime pay might be a place to start cutting, according to advocates and even some officers.
“When people are screaming, ‘Defund the police,’ I got no problems with that because they are wasting fucking money,” said Sgt. Steven Lee, who briefly worked as an interpreter during prostitution arrests and positioned himself as a whistleblower in a recent state Assembly race.
Units that involve a lot of arrests, like vice and narcotics, are known destinations for overtime pay. “It’s called collars for dollars,” said Failla, invoking a term for a practice that has dogged the department for decades. “The more bodies you put in the van, the more overtime there was.”
Elizabeth Velazquez, who retired in 2019, said she started doing “john” stings early in her career to supplement an otherwise modest salary. “That was the point of doing the operation,” she said. “I was a single parent. I needed to pay my mortgage.”
Many officers told ProPublica their colleagues have come to rely on padded paychecks to support lifestyles they otherwise could not afford. They may buy houses or cars on take-home pay that could shrink if they make fewer arrests.
Some squeeze all they can out of overtime because it factors into pension payouts, often based on the years in which they took home the most money. It can pay dividends for the rest of their lives.
The city has pledged to reduce police overtime spending and abuse in recent years, but data and documents suggest limited success. Detectives can still easily add 30% to their salaries through overtime. A typical third-grade detective makes almost $35,000 a year in extra pay, atop an average base salary of $97,000.
In the last three fiscal years, the city has budgeted over $600 million a year for overtime. The department exceeded that figure by at least $100 million each year.
In an interview, one high-ranking NYPD official described overtime as an instrument to encourage all sorts of arrests, used by supervisors under pressure to produce numbers. “Take away overtime and show me how much loyalty you have left.”
Another said that in units like vice, this can discourage officers from launching more complicated investigations that might have more long-term impact. “They go for the low-hanging fruit. Easy collars,” he said. “That’s where they make their money.”
As pressure mounted to reduce police funding following protests this spring, de Blasio and the City Council agreed in June to cut the overtime budget by more than half. Even so, the city’s Independent Budget Office estimated that in fiscal year 2021, the NYPD will spend almost as much on overtime as it usually does, overshooting its budget by $400 million. That’s more than the city Health Department spent in fiscal year 2019 on emergency preparedness, addiction treatment, communicable diseases, immunizations and HIV prevention combined.
The NYPD did not respond to questions about what it’s doing to reduce overtime spending.
Antiuk, who retired three years ago, told ProPublica he is still “living off the royalties from back in the day,” referring to the vice overtime that boosted his pension. In his last 18 months on the job, records show, he made about $85,000 in extra pay.
He laughed as he remembered comparing his wages to those of a “really pretty Spanish girl” he had arrested.
“I make more money than you,” he recalled her saying to him in a hotel room. To which he replied: “Oh yeah? Well, you must be rich, because I’m doing really well.”
That was about all there was to show for his three years helping run vice in the Bronx, Antiuk said.
“I’ll tell you the truth straight up, man. It was a joke.”
About the Data
To help understand how the New York Police Department’s priorities changed over time and which demographic groups were most affected by the policing of prostitution, we analyzed NYPDdata, looking at arrests where the top charge was either prostitution or patronizing a prostitute in the third degree. (Patronizing a prostitute in the first or second degree is a felony charge involving a minor, and those arrests are uncommon. We also restricted our analysis of court data to cases where prostitution or third-degree patronizing was the top charge.) We analyzed the race of people arrested on these charges between October 2016 and September 2020.
Then, using public data on the number of prostitution-related 311 and 911 calls in each police precinct, we compared those complaints to the number of arrests in each precinct. (We restricted our analysis to the period between July 2017 and December 2019, in order to reflect the department’s strategic shift in early 2017 and avoid the possibility of the coronavirus pandemic muddling results). We found that the number of prostitution arrests was indeed strongly correlated to the number of complaints in a given area. Patronizing arrests, however, were only loosely correlated with complaints.
We factored in the racial demographics of each precinct using statistics prepared for us from census data by Measure of America, a program of the Social Science Research Council. We then conducted what’s called a regression analysis, which let us hold one factor constant and then see if the precinct’s demographics are tied to the number of patronizing arrests. We found that demographics did make a significant difference. If we compared precincts with a similar number of complaints, the precinct with a higher percentage of Black and Latino residents usually had significantly more buyer arrests. Similarly, when we compared precincts with a similar number of arrests for prostitution, the same pattern was evident — the neighborhood with a larger Black and Latino population had more arrests for people buying sex.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.
by Paul Harvey, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Martin Luther King Jr. has come to be revered as a hero who led a nonviolent struggle to reform and redeem the United States. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Tributes are paid to him on his death anniversary each April, and his legacy is honored in multiple ways.
But from my perspective as a historian of religion and civil rights, the true radicalism of his thought remains underappreciated. The “civil saint” portrayed nowadays was, by the end of his life, a social and economic radical, who argued forcefully for the necessity of economic justice in the pursuit of racial equality.
Three particular works from 1957 to 1967 illustrate how King’s political thought evolved from a hopeful reformer to a radical critic.
King’s support for white moderates
For much of the 1950s, King believed that white southern ministers could provide moral leadership. He thought the white racists of the South could be countered by the ministers who took a stand for equality. At the time, his concern with economic justice was a secondary theme in his addresses and political advocacy.
Speaking at Vanderbilt University in 1957, he professed his belief that “there is in the white South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface.” He urged them to lead the region through its necessary transition to equal treatment for black citizens. He reassured all that the aim of the movement was not to “defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”
King had hope for this vision. He had worked with white liberals such as Myles Horton, the leader of a center in Tennessee for training labor and civil rights organizers. King had developed friendships and crucial alliances with white supporters in other parts of the country as well. His vision was for the fulfillment of basic American ideals of liberty and equality.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
By the early 1960s, at the peak of the civil rights movement, King’s views had evolved significantly. In early 1963, King came to Birmingham to lead a campaign for civil rights in a city known for its history of racial violence.
During the Birmingham campaign, in April 1963, he issued a masterful public letter explaining the motivations behind his crusade. It stands in striking contrast with his hopeful 1957 sermon.
His “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” responded to a newspaper advertisement from eight local clergymen urging King to allow the city government to enact gradual changes.
In a stark change from his earlier views, King devastatingly targeted white moderates willing to settle for “order” over justice. In an oppressive environment, the avoidance of conflict might appear to be “order,” but in fact supported the denial of basic citizenship rights, he noted.
“We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive,” King wrote. He argued how oppressors never voluntarily gave up freedom to the oppressed – it always had to be demanded by “extremists for justice.”
He wrote how he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” They were, he said, a greater enemy to racial justice than were members of the white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist radicals.
Call for economic justice
By 1967, King’s philosophy emphasized economic justice as essential to equality. And he made clear connections between American violence abroad in Vietnam and American social inequality at home.
Exactly one year before his assassination in Memphis, King stood at one of the best-known pulpits in the nation, at Riverside Church in New York. There, he explained how he had come to connect the struggle for civil rights with the fight for economic justice and the early protests against the Vietnam War.
“Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.’ It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over.”
He angered crucial allies. King and President Lyndon Johnson, for example, had been allies in achieving significant legislative victories in 1964 and 1965. Johnson’s “Great Society” launched a series of initiatives to address issues of poverty at home. But beginning in 1965, after the Johnson administration increased the number of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam, King’s vision grew radical.
King continued with a searching analysis of what linked poverty and violence both at home and abroad. While he had spoken out before about the effects of colonialism, he now made the connection unmistakably clear. He said:
“I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”
King concluded with the famous words on “the fierce urgency of now,” by which he emphasized the immediacy of the connection between economic injustice and racial inequality.
The radical King
King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 serves as the touchstone for the annual King holiday. But King’s dream ultimately evolved into a call for a fundamental redistribution of economic power and resources. It’s why he was in Memphis, supporting a strike by garbage workers, when he was assassinated in April 1968.
This remembering matters more than ever today. Many states are either passing or considering measures that would make it harder for many Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. It would roll back the huge gains in rates of political participation by racial minorities made possible by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the same time, there is a persistent wealth gap between blacks and whites.
Only sustained government attention can address these issues – the point King was stressing later in his life.
King’s philosophy stood not just for “opportunity,” but for positive measures toward economic equality and political power. Ignoring this understanding betrays the “dream” that is ritually invoked each year.
Running on progressive platforms that include ending mass incarceration and addressing police misconduct, candidates defeated traditional “law-and-order” prosecutors across the country.
Elected prosecutors – often called state’s attorneys or district attorneys – represent the people of a particular county in their criminal cases. Their offices work with law enforcement to investigate and try cases, determine which crimes should be prioritized and decide how punitive to be.
After decades of incumbent prosecutors winning reelection based on their high conviction rates or the long sentences they achieved, advocates for criminal justice reform began making inroads into their territory a few years ago. They did so mainly by drawing attention to local races and funding progressive challengers.
She won, becoming the first Black woman to serve as state’s attorney in Chicago. It was also the first high-profile sign that this progressive prosecutorial approach was working.
Her victory was followed by the 2017 election of Larry Krasner as district attorney in Philadelphia. Krasner, a former civil rights attorney, had never prosecuted a case when he ran for office – a move that the city’s police union chief called “hilarious.”
But Krasner’s campaign platform – addressing mass incarceration and police misconduct – responded to a city saddled with the highest incarceration rate among large U.S. cities, nearly seven out of every 1,000 citizens. Krasner won with 75% of the vote.
In Detroit, Karen McDonald won her race for Oakland County prosecutor by promising “common-sense criminal justice reform that utilizes treatment courts and diversion programs, addresses racial disparity, and creates a fair system for all people.”
“I think people are starting to realize, ‘Why don’t I know who my DA is?‘” said Gordon McLaughlin, the new district attorney for Colorado’s Eighth Judicial District, who campaigned on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. “It’s brought criminal justice into the main conversation.”
One prominent issue on voters’ minds is how prosecutors’ offices choose to handle police violence.
Gascón vowed to hold police accountable for officer-involved shootings. During the campaign, he pledged to reopen high-profile cases, including two where people were shot for not complying with an officer’s directions.
Mass incarceration and cash bail
Progressive prosecutors are likely to have the most impact by diverting people away from the criminal justice system in the first place.
Many have been motivated by what they see as “the criminalization of poverty” – a phenomenon in which the poor compile criminal records for minor offenses because they cannot afford bail or effective legal counsel.
Alonzo Payne, the new district attorney for San Luis Valley, Colorado, was outraged that poor people were forced to stay in jail because they couldn’t afford to post bond.
“I decided I wanted to bring some human compassion to the DA’s office,” he told the Denver Post.
Reforming the cash bail system and reducing mass incarceration is a goal shared by all of the newly elected prosecutors this election cycle, including Jose Garza, an immigrant rights attorney, in Austin, Texas.
It seems that progressive policies are here to stay in some of the nation’s largest cities, but reformers didn’t enjoy success everywhere.
Nonetheless, progressive prosecutors are increasingly winning races – and staying in power – by using the criminal justice system in more equitable ways.
Worrell, in Orlando, is a good example. She ran the Conviction Integrity Unit in the district attorney’s office, investigating innocence claims from convicted defendants.
Her reform message resonated a lot more with voters than the message of her opponent, Jose Torroella, who pledged to be “more old-fashioned” and more “strict.” Worrell won the race with nearly 66% of the votes.
“Criminal justice reform is not something people should be afraid of,” Worrell said. “It means we’re going to be smart on crime, rather than tough on crime.”
Until the 21st century, the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War II barely registered in America’s collective memory of that war.
The “tan soldiers,” as the black press affectionately called them, were also for the most part left out of the triumphant narrative of America’s “Greatest Generation.” In order to tell their story of helping defeat Nazi Germany in my 2010 book, “Breath of Freedom,” I had to conduct research in more than 40 different archives in the U.S. and Germany.
When a German TV production company, together with Smithsonian TV, turned that book into a documentary, the filmmakers searched U.S. media and military archives for two years for footage of black GIs in the final push into Germany and during the occupation of post-war Germany.
They watched hundreds of hours of film and discovered less than 10 minutes of footage. This despite the fact that among the 16 million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II, there were about one million African-American soldiers.
They fought in the Pacific, and they were part of the victorious army that liberated Europe from Nazi rule. Black soldiers were also part of the U.S. Army of occupation in Germany after the war. Still serving in strictly segregated units, they were sent to democratize the Germans and expunge all forms of racism.
It was that experience that convinced many of these veterans to continue their struggle for equality when they returned home to the U.S. They were to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement – a movement that changed the face of our nation and inspired millions of repressed people across the globe.
As a scholar of German history and of the more than 70-year U.S. military presence in Germany, I have marveled at the men and women of that generation. They were willing to fight for democracy abroad, while being denied democratic rights at home in the U.S. Because of their belief in America’s “democratic promise” and their sacrifices on behalf of those ideals, I was born into a free and democratic West Germany, just 10 years after that horrific war.
Fighting racism at home and abroad
By deploying troops abroad as warriors for and emissaries of American democracy, the military literally exported the African-American freedom struggle.
Beginning in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, African-American activists and the black press used white America’s condemnation of Nazi racism to expose and indict the abuses of Jim Crow at home. America’s entry into the war and the struggle against Nazi Germany allowed civil rights activists to significantly step up their rhetoric.
“You jim crowed me / Before hitler rose to power- / And you are still jim crowing me- / Right now this very hour.”
Believing that fighting for American democracy abroad would finally grant African-Americans full citizenship at home, civil rights activists put pressure on the U.S. government to allow African-American soldiers to “fight like men,” side by side with white troops.
The military brass, disproportionately dominated by white Southern officers, refused. They argued that such a step would undermine military efficiency and negatively impact the morale of white soldiers. In an integrated military, black officers or NCOs might also end up commanding white troops. Such a challenge to the Jim Crow racial order based on white supremacy was seen as unacceptable.
The manpower of black soldiers was needed in order to win the war, but the military brass got its way; America’s Jim Crow order was to be upheld. African-Americans were allowed to train as pilots in the segregated Tuskeegee Airmen. The 92nd Buffalo Soldiers and 93rd Blue Helmets all-black divisions were activated and sent abroad under the command of white officers.
Despite these concessions, 90 percent of black troops were forced to serve in labor and supply units, rather than the more prestigious combat units. Except for a few short weeks during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 when commanders were desperate for manpower, all U.S. soldiers served in strictly segregated units. Even the blood banks were segregated.
‘A Breath of Freedom’
After the defeat of the Nazi regime, an Army manual instructed U.S. occupation soldiers that America was the “living denial of Hitler’s absurd theories of a superior race,” and that it was up to them to teach the Germans “that the whole concept of superiority and intolerance of others is evil.” There was an obvious, deep gulf between this soaring rhetoric of democracy and racial harmony, and the stark reality of the Jim Crow army of occupation. It was also not lost on the black soldiers.
Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”
Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.
By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.
Newly returned veterans, civil rights advocates and the black press took advantage of that Cold War constellation. They evoked America’s mission of democracy in Germany to push for change at home. Responding to that pressure, the first institution of the U.S. to integrate was the U.S. military, made possible by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. That monumental step, in turn, paved the way for the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
The veterans who had been abroad electrified and energized the larger struggle to make America live up to its promise of democracy and justice. They joined the NAACP in record numbers and founded new chapters of that organization in the South, despite a wave of violence against returning veterans. The veterans of World War II and the Korean War became the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Hosea Williams and Aaron Henry are some of the better-known names, but countless others helped advance the struggle.
About one-third of the leaders in the civil rights movement were veterans of World War II.
They fought for a better America in the streets of the South, at their workplaces in the North, as leaders in the NAACP, as plaintiffs before the Supreme Court and also within the U.S. military to make it a more inclusive institution. They were also the men of the hour at the 1963 March on Washington, when their military training and expertise was crucial to ensure that the day would not be marred by agitators opposed to civil rights.
“We structured the March on Washington like an army formation,” recalled veteran Joe Hairston.
For these veterans, the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama were triumphant moments in their long struggle for a better America and a more just world. Many never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American would lead their country.
Court.rchp.com Editorial Note: Missouri is one of only four states that do not provide any state wide mail in ballot tracking, however, in the St. Louis area, tracking is available.
St. Louis City:Go to STLCityBallotTracking.com, Enter the “Ballot Track ID” from your ballot stub. You may also scan the square QR code on the stub and the code will take you right to the results. Once the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners has received your ballot, they’ll let you know by updating your ballot tracking page with a third green checkmark.
St. Charles County: There are a few steps to tracking your ballot in St. Charles County. First, visit sccmo.org/410/Election-Authority and then scroll down just a little to the “Nov. 3, 2020 General Election Information” list. Then click the second option which is “Track your Absentee by Mail ballot.” Then enter your information in their tracking system and you should be able to track your ballot from there.
Jefferson County: There is no tracking website, but if you call the County Clerk’s office and give them your name and address, they’ll look you up and confirm that your ballot has been received. Their phone number is 636-797-5486 and once you get the voice recording press “2” on your phone for the Voter Registration and Elections Department.
by Steven Mulroy, University of Memphis
Many voters who want to participate in the election by mail are concerned about when they’ll receive their ballot – and whether it will get back in time to be counted.
At the same time, recent changes at the U.S. Postal Service have caused slowdowns in mail delivery. The Postal Service itself has warned states that ballots mailed by election officials close to Election Day may not reach voters in time. A federal court has issued a nationwide order giving election-related mail priority in Postal Service processing.
Nevertheless, anecdotal reports abound of voters who applied for absentee ballots and are still waiting for them weeks later.
Fortunately, almost everyone who is allowed to vote by mail can stay on top of where those ballots are. In 44 states and the District of Columbia, a unified system allows all voters to see when their request for a ballot by mail was received, when the ballot was mailed to them and when the completed ballot was received back at the local election office.
Two other states provide online tracking for members of the military and civilian citizens who live overseas – groups that have special mail ballot protections under federal law. In the remaining four states without a statewide ballot-tracking system, some counties and municipalities may have their own online versions – or may be able to update voters who contact the office by phone or in person.
The Postal Service, election officials and other experts recommend that people conservatively allow a week for the ballot to arrive at their home from the election office, and a week for it to get back so it can be counted. It may take less time, and in some places you can speed things up by using an official drop box to return your ballot without relying on the mail.
In either case, you can keep an eye on your ballot to make sure it has arrived and been accepted for counting. And if it hasn’t arrived yet, or has been rejected for some reason, you’ll know to contact local election officials to see what to do so your vote can count.
Wendi C. Thomas is a black journalist who has covered police in Memphis. She learned during a police surveillance trial that the Memphis Police Department spied on her and three other journalists. One officer admitted to spying on her. She’s on a long list of prominent black journalists and activists who have been subjected to police surveillance over decades.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Aug. 20, 2018, the first day of a federal police surveillance trial, I discovered that the Memphis Police Department was spying on me.
The ACLU of Tennessee had sued the MPD, alleging that the department was in violation of a 1978 consent decree barring surveillance of residents for political purposes.
I’m pretty sure I wore my pink gingham jacket — it’s my summer go-to when I want to look professional. I know I sat on the right side of the courtroom, not far from a former colleague at the city’s daily newspaper. I’d long suspected that I was on law enforcement’s radar, simply because my work tends to center on the most marginalized communities, not institutions with the most power.
One of the first witnesses called to the stand: Sgt. Timothy Reynolds, who is white. To get intel on activists and organizers, including those in the Black Lives Matter movement, he’d posed on Facebook as a “man of color,” befriending people and trying to infiltrate closed circles.
Projected onto a giant screen in the courtroom was a screenshot of people Reynolds followed on Facebook.
My head was bent as I wrote in my reporter’s notebook. “What does this entry indicate?” ACLU attorney Amanda Strickland Floyd asked.
She, he replied, used to write for The Commercial Appeal. In 2014, I left the paper after being a columnist for 11 years.
It’s been more than a year since a judge ruled against the city, and I’ve never gotten a clear answer on why the MPD was monitoring me. Law enforcement also was keeping tabs on three other journalists whose names came out during the trial. Reynolds testified he used the fake account to monitor protest activity and follow current events connected to Black Lives Matter.
My sin, as best I can figure, was having good sources who were local organizers and activists, including some of the original plaintiffs in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the city.
In the days since cellphone video captured white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin squeezing the life out of George Floyd, a black man, residents in dozens of cities across the country have exercised their First Amendment rights to protest police brutality.
Here in Memphis, where two-thirds of the population is black and 1 in 4 lives below the poverty line, demonstrators have chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!”
The most recent protests were sparked by the killings of Floyd and of Breonna Taylor, a black woman gunned down in her home by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March. But in Memphis, like elsewhere, the seeds of distrust between activists and police were planted decades ago. And law enforcement has nurtured these seeds ever since.
A Long History of Spying
In the mid-1960s, the MPD launched a domestic intelligence unit to spy not just on activists, but also on teachers’ meetings, a college black student union and labor organizers. That included Martin Luther King Jr., who came to Memphis in the spring of 1968 to stand in solidarity with underpaid and mistreated black city sanitation workers.
The police surveillance wasn’t conducted just with wiretaps and long lenses, but with snitches planted within local organizations, including spies planted by then-Mayor Henry Loeb, an anti-union segregationist, among sanitation workers who wanted to join a union.
In the iconic photo taken just moments after a gunman shot King on the Lorraine Motel balcony, several people are seen pointing in the direction from which the bullet came. Crouched over King’s body is a man holding a towel to the gaping wound on King’s face. The man, rarely identified in photos, is Marrell “Mac” McCollough, a Memphis cop who was assigned to infiltrate a militant activist group hated by Memphis police. There’s no evidence he was involved with King’s assassination.
Some, including members of King’s family, have long speculated that the assassination was not the work of a lone gunman but orchestrated by federal law enforcement agencies (the FBI famously monitored and harassed King). Both a U.S. House committee independent review in 1979 and a Department of Justice review in 2000 found no basis for this. Still, in 2002, the National Civil Rights Museum, which sits where the motel was, added to its permanent exhibits “Lingering Questions,” which contains hundreds of pieces of evidence, including the bullet plucked from King’s body. One of the questions (that the exhibit does not definitively answer): “Was the Memphis Police Department part of the conspiracy?”
In 1976, the ACLU of Tennessee sued the city, alleging it had violated residents’ First Amendment rights by maintaining records that “contained unverified information and gossip which related exclusively to the exercise of lawful and peaceful activities,” and, according to the complaint, “served no lawful or valid law enforcement purpose.”
A judge agreed and in 1978 signed the Kendrick consent decree, the first such decree in the country, which barred law enforcement from surveilling protesters for political purposes.
Many of today’s protesters know about that ruling, because in 2017 the ACLU of Tennessee sued the city, alleging that police were violating the consent decree by again illegally spying on residents who were exercising their First Amendment rights.
In 2016, protesters had a series of high-profile demonstrations including a May protest at the Memphis Zoo, a spontaneous protest against police brutality in July in which hundreds blocked traffic on the Interstate 40 bridge and a December “die-in” in the mayor’s front yard. After those, according to the lawsuit, the city started a blacklist of residents barred from City Hall without an escort.
It contained the names not just of those who had been arrested at demonstrations, but many who had not, including the mother of Darrius Stewart, a black teen police shot and killed in 2015 following a traffic stop, and a white grandmother who’d made it through a security blockade outside Graceland while black protesters were held back.
Reynolds’ sleuthing made up a good part of the joint intelligence briefings, which were shared with law enforcement agencies and some of the city’s largest corporations, such as FedEx and AutoZone, at the businesses’ request. (Facebook told the MPD it violated the social platform’s terms of service by creating fake accounts and impersonating others.)
In court, the city argued that the surveillance — videotaping demonstrations, using social media collators to sweep up posts about police and Black Lives Matters supporters — was necessary to protect public safety.
But while joint intelligence briefings and internal reports were ostensibly to keep track of potential threats, they were littered with unfounded rumors, misidentified photos of activists and surveillance reports of events that posed no clear threat, such as a black food truck festival.
And while it’s true that the pen is mightier than the sword, there’s nothing about me that screams threat, unless critical reporting on public policy and public officials, including Mayor Jim Strickland, counts.
In 2017, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism covered the anniversary of the bridge protest, but when I tried to get an interview with the mayor, I was rebuffed.
“Objectivity dictates if the mayor does one on one interviews,” wrote Ursula Madden, the city’s chief communications officer in an email. “You have demonstrated, particularly on social media, that you are not objective when it comes to Mayor Strickland.”
I replied that I was disappointed and asked her to point me to any errors of fact I’d made in my coverage. She did not respond.
I’ve worked as a journalist in Memphis for the last 17 years. I’ve never been a victim of police brutality, but few of my interactions with police have inspired confidence.
In 2014, while I was at The Commercial Appeal, a reader threatened by email to rape me after a column I wrote about Confederate Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. I reluctantly reported the threat to police, but the investigation felt lackluster and no suspect was ever identified.
It nagged at me, and years later, when I tried to learn more about what steps the detective assigned to my case had taken, department officials refused to share any information, even the details of their interview with me.
In July 2015, I covered the demonstrations that followed Stewart’s death by police. I interviewed the teen’s father and posted the video on Instagram.
A few days later, a cousin I hadn’t seen in years stopped by. He wanted to take a quick tour through downtown Memphis. It was dark and rainy. He’s black with long locks and a beard.
I wanted to be a good host, but before I left the house, I tweeted my hesitation: “My cousin is in town for work, leaving tomorrow. He wants to see Downtown. My 1st thought: Do I want to risk an encounter w/ police?”
My fear was not without cause: Less than two weeks earlier, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, had been forced out of her car by an aggressive Texas cop who’d stopped her for failing to signal while changing lanes. A dashboard camera video caught her arrest and three days later, she was found dead in a jail cell. Authorities said she died by suicide.
I was thinking about what happened to Bland and what had happened to Stewart, who had been shot to death by police following a traffic stop the same month.
Just a few miles from home, flashing lights filled my rearview mirror. I pulled over, heart pounding.
I hit record on my cellphone and placed it on the dashboard. You can’t see the officer’s face in the video, which I still have, but you can hear our voices over the windshield wipers. The officer, who was black, asked for my license. I handed it to him and asked why I’d been stopped.
He said my driver’s side headlight was out, but when he leaned over to tap it, he said it was back on.
“I’m not trying to be Sandra Bland tonight,” I told the officer.
The Memphis officer said he was trying to be a nice guy. “You think I want to stand out here in the rain?” he can be heard saying on video.
“Ms. Thomas,” he said, reading my license. “Ms. Wendi Thomas.” I wondered if he recognized my byline. I offered to show him what I had just tweeted but he declined. “Your headlights are working now,” he said. “You be safe, OK?”
“Yeah, but what happens when somebody else pulls me over?” I asked.
“I don’t know what somebody else is gonna do,” he said, “but I know that if you do the right things, if you’re doing the right things, then nothing else can happen but good.”
I now wonder if the police had been following me. The police department did not answer questions for this story.
But at the time, I was paralyzed by fear and wanted to avoid being pulled over again.
I took side streets home.
Why Were You Following Me?
After Reynolds left the stand after naming me as someone he had followed, the judge took a short recess. I headed outside the courtroom and saw Reynolds headed to the elevator.
I followed him. When the doors closed, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. I asked: Why were you following me on social media?
Although it was chilly in the courtroom, Reynolds was sweating. He said he couldn’t talk about it.
Two days after Reynolds’ testimony, I filed a public records request with the city of Memphis, asking for all joint intelligence briefings, emails or other documents that referenced me or any of the three other journalists that the MPD was following on social media.
Four hundred and thirty three days later, the city produced the records — and I still don’t understand what would make police see me as a threat worthy of surveillance in the name of public safety.
Contained in the documents: A screenshot of a Facebook post that I made on Jan. 28, 2016, while I was on a fellowship at Harvard University. I’d shared a notice about a grassroots coalition meeting to be held that day.
In a joint intelligence briefing was a screenshot of a tweet I’d been tagged in. The original tweet, which at the time police captured it had 11 likes and one retweet, was itself a screenshot of an offensive image a Memphis police officer had allegedly posted on Snapchat.
In another police email was a February 2017 tweet I sent about an upcoming protest, which had been announced on Facebook. It got two likes.
The city of Memphis is pushing back against the judge’s ruling. Its lawyers have asked the court to modify the consent decree, contending that the city can’t participate in a Trump administration public safety partnership if it isn’t allowed to share intelligence with federal agencies.
My battles with the city of Memphis didn’t end with the lawsuit, unfortunately.
In 2018, I was trying to figure out which corporations had answered the mayor’s call to financially subsidize police operations by funneling $6.1 million to the city through a secretive nonprofit, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission.
Strickland wouldn’t divulge the companies’ identities, but he realized that public records I’d requested would. So the mayor’s staff, in conjunction with the Crime Commission and another secretive nonprofit, came up with a plan to release the companies’ names to local journalists before releasing the records to me, I learned through emails released in conjunction with a 2018 public records lawsuit against the Crime Commission.
And this year, I was forced to sue the city after it refused to include me on its media email advisory list despite repeated requests.
The city of Memphis did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
My experiences have shaped the way my newsroom has covered more recent protests, including those in Memphis since Floyd’s death.
A guide on covering protests from the Racial Equity in Journalism Fund at Borealis Philanthropy notes, “Understand how police use news coverage to surveil black communities. Don’t allow police to use you, or your coverage, to do their jobs.”
We applied these principles to our recent coverage of a civil disobedience training that drew more than 350 people. While we know the names of the people we talked to, if participants weren’t comfortable using their whole name or showing their entire face, we protected their identity.
After all, I know how it feels to know that the police are watching you.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.
April 15, 2020 marks 60 years since the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, perhaps better known as SNCC, and usually pronounced as “snick.” SNCC became one of the most important organizations to engage in grassroots organizing during the modern civil rights movement and radically transformed youth culture during the decade. Jelani Favors, an associate professor of history and author of a book on how historically black colleges and universities ushered in a new era of activism and leadership, discusses SNCC’s legacy and what lessons it can offer today’s activists.
What role did SNCC play in the civil rights movement?
The founding of SNCC in April 1960 represented an important paradigm shift within the modern civil rights movement. SNCC encouraged black youth to defiantly enter spaces that they had been told to avoid all of their lives. The founding in 1960 resulted in a wave of SNCC activists being sent into the most hostile environments to register voters and mobilize African Americans for change. In doing so, SNCC ushered in the direct action phase of the movement.
Previous generations of activists had embraced lawsuits, such as the 1944 Smith v. Allwright against racial discrimination in voting, and the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case against racial segregation in public schools. Previous generations also embraced non-direct protest tactics, such as boycotts, to bring slow change. But the sit-ins – popularized by black college students who would later form SNCC – placed black bodies on the line in ways that other tactics had not. They clogged “five and dime” stores across the South, effectively shutting them down, dramatizing the movement for black liberation as the entire world looked on through television and media coverage.
Black youth courageously courted the danger that often accompanied breaking the color line in the racially segregated South. Their actions resulted in violent clashes that fully displayed the immorality of white segregationists and simultaneously captured the nobility and courage of black youth. Perhaps most importantly, SNCC radically transformed youth culture in America. The organization took a generation of youth that Time magazine had previously labeled in 1951 as the “silent generation,” and ushered in a decade – the 1960s – that would be widely characterized and defined by the militancy and dissent of young Americans.
How did historically black colleges and universities help form SNCC and its agenda?
Black colleges served as the incubators for this militancy. For generations, historically black colleges and universities – also known as HBCUs – exposed students to a “second curriculum” that was defined by race consciousness, idealism and cultural nationalism. These concepts not only blunted the toxic effects of white supremacy, but they also empowered youth and deliberately fitted them with a mission to serve as change agents within their respective communities and professional fields. It was not happenstance that the origins of SNCC were rooted within the crucial intellectual and social spaces that were carved out within HBCUs.
The overwhelming majority of students who convened in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 15, 1960 were from southern black colleges where the sit-ins had unfolded. And it was also no mistake that they met at Shaw University, an HBCU located in Raleigh. After all, the woman who had the vision to bring those students together – Ella Baker – was a 1927 graduate of Shaw.
For generations, black college alumni like Baker worked within religious institutions, civil rights organizations, labor unions and special interests groups. Their work within these spaces was largely informed by the “second curriculum” they had been exposed to as HBCU students. SNCC was therefore part of a long tradition of radicalism that was cultivated and produced within black colleges. This exposure equipped them with the necessary intellectual and political tools they would use to take on white supremacy and Jim Crow – the system of legalized segregation in the South.
What is SNCC’s legacy?
SNCC had a relatively short lifespan compared to other civil rights organizations. By the end of the decade their operations were defunct. Much of this was due to both external and internal pressures. Nevertheless, SNCC distinguished itself as “the most powerful energy machine” for the freedom struggle. I argue that SNCC was the most important and effective civil rights organization of the 1960s.
Unlike most other organizations, SNCC eschewed “top-down” operations that fostered elitism and “helicopter” tactics in which organizers would swoop in to inspire local folks and then leave them to manage local struggles on their own. SNCC’s objectives were completely opposite. They entered into the most dangerous, racially hostile and violent regions of the country, such as Albany, Georgia, the Delta region of Mississippi, and Lowndes County, Alabama. Once there, they set up operations that listened to and empowered local people, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Amzie Moore, Unita Blackwell and countless others.
The relationship between SNCC and local people was reciprocal. SNCC activists learned and lived among the black proletariat – sharecroppers, farmers and day laborers. These people’s wisdom, shrewdness and practical knowledge of how to survive and navigate the worst of the Jim Crow South proved invaluable as SNCC took the fight for black liberation into the rural communities and remote areas of the South. Their blueprint became the template for local organizing for the Black Power Movement and beyond. Perhaps most importantly, their actions played a crucial role in expanding the ballot to millions of Americans who had been marginalized by racist policies and violence.
What lessons can today’s student activists learn from SNCC?
Both SNCC’s victories and defeats are very informative on the history of black social movements. Internal debates are both necessary and healthy for activist organizations. However, by 1964 SNCC’s ability to function as a cohesive unit was under serious threat. Disagreements concerning the infusion of young white activists in the organization and field operations, arguments concerning the use of non-violence as a tactic, and debate over other competing ideological tenets, such as Marxism and Black Nationalism, greatly impaired the organization’s ability to keep a unified front.
Perhaps most challenging were the external threats to SNCC’s existence. The potency of SNCC drew the attention of federal and state agencies that wanted to curb its influence and power. SNCC activists were constantly under surveillance. They lived their lives under the looming shadow of intimidation from law enforcement and the threat of being infiltrated. Today’s student activists can and should be wary of arguments that are unproductive and those who seek to derail their organizations with their own toxic agendas.
In spite of these challenges, SNCC presented a model that empowered local communities and radically transformed American democracy. By listening to and learning from aggrieved populations and empowering local folks to carry out their own agendas, today’s student activists can extend the radical tradition established by SNCC.
We'll Never Turn Back (1963) | SNCC Film feat. Fannie Lou Hamer