I’ve been researching lawsuits against the gun industry for over 20 years. While I believe New York’s law is certain to unleash a new round of lawsuits against gun-makers, my research suggests that these claims will face considerable legal hurdles. Even if this litigation succeeds – effectively ending the gun industry’s immunity from liability – the jury is still out on whether it will do much to curb gun violence.
Defining illegal gun use as a public nuisance
States routinely rely on public nuisance laws to regulate conduct that unreasonably interferes with the health and safety of others. Common examples include polluting the air or water, obstructing roadways or making excessive noise.
New York’s amended statute holds gun manufacturers and sellers responsible for the public nuisance of illegal gun use if they fail to implement “reasonable controls” to prevent the unlawful sale, possession or use of firearms within the state. The law specifies that “reasonable controls” include implementing programs to secure inventory from theft and prevent illegal retail sales.
Under the law, both public officials and private citizens can file lawsuits seeking money damages and a court injunction to compel offending parties to stop the nuisance. For example, a gun manufacturer who sold weapons that were subsequently used in crimes could be held liable if it failed to take reasonable measures to ensure that retail dealers did not engage in illegal sales practices.
The gun industry’s immunity shield
Suing the firearms industry for gun violence under the theory of public nuisance is nothing new.
Individual gun violence victims, civic organizations such as the NAACP and big-city mayors started filing such lawsuits in the late 1990s. Congress put an end to this litigation in 2005 when it passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which granted gun sellers – including manufacturers – immunity from liability arising out of criminal misuse of the weapons they sold.
Immunity under the act is not absolute. Notably, a seller is not immune from liability if it “knowingly violated a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing” of firearms. Consequently, following the passage of the act, plaintiffs argued that gun-makers’ marketing, distribution and sales practices constituted a public nuisance in violation of state statutes.
However, federal appellate courts in New York and California rejected this argument. Those courts held that public nuisance laws did not qualify for the exception to immunity because they were not specifically aimed at regulating firearms.
Challenges ahead for New York’s new law
New York responded by updating its statute.
The state is hoping to prompt civil litigation that will bring pressure on the industry to prevent the diversion of guns into the black market and the hands of illegal gun traffickers. Before the federal immunity bill, the industry faced a rising tide of litigation.
New lawsuits, however, will face multiple challenges, which I believe will likely reach all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I will consider two prominent ones.
First, gun industry defendants will argue that New York’s amended public nuisance statute is an attempt to subvert the purpose of 2005 law, which was passed specifically to halt these types of claims against gun sellers in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The opening section of the immunity law denounces this litigation as “an abuse of the legal system.” New York’s claim to utilize a narrow exception to gun industry immunity looks an awful lot like an attempt to eliminate immunity altogether.
At the same time, the letter of the law allows claims arising out of the violation of any statute that specifically applies to the sale of firearms, which is exactly what New York’s amended public nuisance law does.
For the Supreme Court, these contending views would pit the conservative majority’s strong allegiance to gun rights against its insistence on sticking to the letter of the law when reading statutes.
Second, gun industry defendants will argue that the Second Amendment limits any type of litigation likely to restrict access to the lawful purchase of firearms.
In a series of landmark cases, the Supreme Court said the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to own firearms “in common use” for “lawful purposes like self-defense.” If public nuisance lawsuits were to drive some gun-makers into bankruptcy, courts might view them as a threat to Second Amendment rights.
However, the Second Amendment is silent on how to balance the constitutional right to keep and bear arms against the right Americans have to sue in civil court. How the Supreme Court might rule on this particular challenge is unclear.
Impact on reducing gun violence
But let’s assume for a moment that nuisance lawsuits survive a Supreme Court challenge, effectively ending the gun industry’s liability shield. Would this litigation then be able to reduce gun violence?
The main impact of these lawsuits is to put pressure on gun manufactures to do more to prevent inventory theft and illegal sales by retailers. Since 2000, the gun industry has operated a program to prevent illegal straw purchases, suggesting manufactures think they may be able to affect how retailers operate. Even still, little is known about whether this program has had any impact on gun violence rates. That’s why no one really knows if forcing gun manufacturers to more closely supervise retailers will work.
Part of the problem is a lack of government funding since the mid-1990s for public health research on alleged links between industry sales practices and gun crimes. Recent funding for this kind of research may clarify the value of regulating illegal gun sales as a public nuisance.
Until then, passing laws to prompt litigation against the gun industry is just a shot in the dark.
Cases like these are often called “landmark” cases, because they set forth ideas and ideals that may bring about significant changes in the political and legal landscape.
Many analysts considered the Chauvin trial, in particular, to be a landmark. In it, police officers actually testified against one of their own, which is rare, and the jury held a white police officer criminally accountable for killing a Black man. On June 25, 2021, the judge sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for murdering Floyd after he attempted to use a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes.
People all over the world have followed the Chauvin trial closely, as the culminating event after a year of global protests against police brutality and racism.
Landmark trials may go down in history, but as a law professor specializing in alternative dispute resolution, I know that they do not instantly transform the social order.
Courts are limited in the kinds of disputes they can hear and the sorts of relief they can provide. Moreover, major court cases and other moments of reform in American history often result in legislative backlash and a “recalibration,” as my colleague Stuart Chinn has argued. Those reactions may slow or even undermine the momentum for social change.
And even famously “just” verdicts haven’t necessarily pushed U.S. society in a linear direction toward its constitutional ideals.
Big verdicts, slow change
A well-known example is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court held unanimously that the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools violated the 14th Amendment.
The 1954 Brown decision, which ended legal segregation in the nation’s schools, inspired civil rights activists, drew broader attention to the struggle for racial equality and was instrumental in enforcing and encouraging racial desegregation.
But the main objectives of Brown – integrating public schools and leveling the educational playing field – have not been realized.
Many schools are still effectively segregated, in part because of ongoing legal and practical challenges associated with integration. In the 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley, for example, the Supreme Court limited the ability of federal courts to compel integration across school districts. That decision, handed down 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education, has made it difficult if not impossible to fulfill Brown’s promise of integration.
Another instructive example from the same era is Gideon v. Wainwright. In the Gideon case, the Supreme Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, the state must provide attorneys to criminal defendants who could not otherwise afford them.
Following through on this constitutional mandate has proven difficult. Many parts of the country allocate grossly inadequate resources to the defense of indigent defendants. New Orleans’ 60 public defenders, for example, handle approximately 20,000 cases each year, according to a 2017 report.
Law students learn by the end of their grueling first year that trials alone are not effective mechanisms for addressing complex social and political problems.
Yet landmark trials are important. Legal proceedings are opportunities to articulate and reinforce American ideals around equality and justice and to expose bias and unfairness. They calibrate and restrain state power, test the merit of legal claims and create a public record.
Trials are an official public rendering of guilt or liability. Without them, the United States would lose much of the law’s ability to inspire and call attention to social change.
But as the Brown and Gideon cases show, legal decisions grounded in constitutional ideals of equality and justice do not automatically lead to an individual or collective moral reckoning.
Implementing the aspirational ideals set forth in landmark verdicts requires legislation, systems design, negotiation, collaboration, dialogue, activism and education.
Ultimately, however, the meaning of the Chauvin murder trial within the larger context of the struggle for racial justice will depend, in part, on how people outside the courtroom respond to calls for reform.
This explains why so many people reacted to the Chauvin verdict with relief and also something akin to dissatisfaction. They realized that one guilty verdict, standing on its own, is not enough to address persistent and systemic inequities in the United States.
Police departments and officers, city officials, activists, community members, business owners, state and federal actors – all of these people share collective responsibility for defining George Floyd’s legacy in modern American history.
Landmark cases are moments in time; legacies unfold over generations. If Americans want safer communities and more ethical policing, the work starts now.
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.
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.”
The potential impact that having fewer prisoners to draw upon highlights the crucial role that incarcerated workers play in disaster response. While many people are aware that prisoners work to help contain wildfires in California and elsewhere, less well known is the role incarcerated workers play as a labor source across a variety of disasters throughout the country.
As a social scientist, I study the impact of disasters on incarcerated populations. I recently co-authored a study on the role of incarcerated workers in state emergency operations plans – the primary emergency planning documents for state governments. We found that 30 out of the 47 states analyzed, including California, Texas and Florida, had explicit instructions to use prisoners for emergencies and disasters. Furthermore, we identified at least 34 disaster-related tasks that states assign to incarcerated workers. Delaware, New Jersey and Tennessee were not included in our analysis as their plans were not publicly available.
These include work that requires minimal training such as making sandbags, clearing debris, handling supplies and caring for pets for evacuees. But it also includes roles that require specialized training like fighting fires, collecting and disposing contaminated animal carcasses and cleaning up hazardous materials.
Some of these tasks put incarcerated workers at risk of injury or ill health.
14 cents an hour
Prison systems have long championed the work of incarcerated persons in emergencies and disasters as a demonstration of the value of prisons to local communities and the state.
State prison systems often have internal policies that guide the use of incarcerated persons to assist with disaster operations. For example, the Alabama Department of Corrections’ administrative regulations dictate that in the event of a disaster, “the major support of the [department] will be manpower” including the use of “inmate labor.”
In addition, state laws across the U.S. often specifically state that incarcerated workers may be assigned to work in disaster conditions.
For example, Georgia allows for incarcerated workers to be required to work in conditions that may jeopardize their health if an emergency threatens the lives of others or of public property. Meanwhile Colorado passed legislation in 1998 that created the Inmate Disaster Relief Program under which the state can “form a labor pool” to “fight forest fires, help with flood relief, and assist in the prevention of or clean up after other natural or man-made disasters.”
As with wildfire programs, incarcerated workers are looked to in times of disaster primarily because they are a low-cost substitution for civilian workers. Incarcerated workers are paid very low wages averaging between US$0.14 and $0.63 an hour. And some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Texas, don’t pay incarcerated workers at all.
The cost of inmate labor is offset through federal subsidies. FEMA’s public assistance program provides states with “funding for prisoner transportation to the worksite and extraordinary costs of security guards, food and lodging.” This provides a significant financial incentive to use incarcerated workers for disaster labor. After Hurricane Michael in 2018, FEMA awarded the Florida Department of Corrections $311,305 for debris removal.
Not all disaster work is voluntary for incarcerated persons. The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows for incarcerated persons to be compelled to participate in labor without their consent as part of their punishment. That applies to disaster work too.
The Constitution’s Eighth Amendment “forbids knowingly compelling an inmate to perform labor that is beyond the inmate’s strength, dangerous to his or her life or health, or unduly painful.” However, in the context of disasters, it is challenging to know whether or not the situation or the environment is truly safe. And little is known about the training prisoners receive.
If incarcerated persons refuse to participate, they may face serious consequences, such as being sent to solitary confinement, the loss of earned time off their sentences or the loss of family visitation.
Ambrose reportedly expressed prior concerns about the hazardous work but was told he would be charged with “disrupting a work zone” and would be sent to solitary confinement if he did not participate. Later, the correctional officer in charge of Ambrose and those on the work crew was found responsible for his death in that he knew the downed power line was a safety threat. It was also later shown that the only training Ambrose had received was a short video on safely operating chainsaws.
Exploitation and harm
Some advocates for prisoners’ rights have begun drawing attention to the vulnerability of incarcerated workers in disasters. After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice program published a guidebook called “In the Eye of the Storm” to help communities make disaster response and recovery processes more equitable. The guidebook includes suggestions for how to advocate specifically for worker protections for incarcerated persons. Community members are encouraged to ask about whether the incarcerated workers have received relevant training and adequate protective equipment and if their participation in the work is voluntary.
Incarcerated workers are deeply embedded throughout emergency management in the United States. Yet so much attention remains focused on the most visible and well-known programs, their role – and the potential for exploitation and harm – in many other disasters remains overlooked.
Now he’s on trial for his life, and prosecutors are planning to do what they’ve done to hundreds of other accused hip-hop artists: Use his own lyrics as evidence against him.
Because my research centers on African American literary and musical traditions – with a particular emphasis on hip-hop culture – I was asked by the defense to testify as an expert witness in Drakeo’s first trial.
This is work I’m called to do quite regularly. My best guess is that I’ve consulted on over 60 cases in which prosecutors have used rap lyrics or videos as evidence of guilt. In addition, my research with University of Georgia law professor Andrea Dennis has uncovered more than 500 instances in which prosecutors have used this strategy, a number we’re certain is just the tip of the iceberg.
As an expert witness, my job is to correct the prosecutors’ characterizations of rap music. They routinely ignore the fact that rap is a form of artistic expression – with stage names, an emphasis on figurative language and hyperbolic rhetoric – and instead present rap as autobiographical.
In effect, they ask jurors to suspend the distinction between author and narrator, reality and fiction, and to read rap lyrics as literal confessions of guilt.
No other art form is exploited like this in court. And yet it’s an effective strategy precisely because it taps into stereotypes about rap music and the young men of color who are its primary creators.
Lyrics on trial
To recap Drakeo’s legal drama: Last year, he was charged and tried in connection with a shooting at a party that resulted in the death of a 24-year-old man named Davion Gregory.
According to prosecutors, the shooting was botched. Drakeo, they claimed, had ordered the shooter to kill a different person – a musical rival who raps as RJ.
Their evidence was flimsy. RJ wasn’t even at the party, and there’s no evidence he and Drakeo ever had violent confrontations. In fact, RJ has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe he was ever targeted by Drakeo. One of the district attorney’s own witnesses also said Drakeo didn’t know the shooting was going to happen.
So to bolster their case, prosecutors focused on Drakeo’s music. At one point, for example, they cited a line from his song “Flex Freestyle,” in which he raps, “I’m ridin’ round town with a Tommy gun and a Jag / And you can disregard the yelling, RJ tied up in the back.”
The line was fictional; nobody claims that RJ was ever tied up in the back of Drakeo’s car. Nevertheless, prosecutors wanted the jury to believe that the lyrics were actual reflections of Caldwell’s desire to harm an industry rival.
Despite the prosecution’s efforts to use Drakeo’s music against him, it didn’t work: In July 2019, the jury acquitted Drakeo of most counts, including the multiple counts of murder.
Nonetheless, prosecutors are taking the unusual step of retrying Drakeo on a charge on which the jury deadlocked the first time around: criminal gang conspiracy.
In 2014, for instance, San Diego prosecutors charged Brandon Duncan, who raps as Tiny Doo, with criminal gang conspiracy in connection with a series of shootings that took place in San Diego in 2013 and 2014. Nobody argued that Duncan participated in or even knew about the shootings. Nor was he in a gang.
But citing the same law now being used against Drakeo, prosecutors said his violent rap lyrics promoted gang violence – and that Duncan benefited from that violence in the form of enhanced “street cred.” So for crimes that everyone agrees Duncan didn’t commit or know about, prosecutors sought to put him away for 25 years to life. He sat in jail for more than seven months before a judge finally threw out the charges against him. Duncan later filed a lawsuit for wrongful arrest in the case, and just last month he settled with the city of San Diego for over US$700,000.
Duncan was far more fortunate than most young men who have their lyrics weaponized against them in court. The vast majority of the cases we’ve found end in conviction, often with lengthy sentences.
To highlight just a few of the recent cases I’ve testified in: There was Victor Hernandez, sentenced to life in prison for murder in Arizona; Christopher Bassett, sentenced to life plus 35 years for murder in Tennessee; and Ronnie Fuston, sentenced to death for murder in Oklahoma.
The question is not whether these young men committed the crimes they were convicted of. The question is whether they received a fair trial from an unbiased jury. When rap lyrics are introduced as evidence, that becomes highly dubious.
There’s a rhyme and a reason
Introducing rap lyrics can be highly effective for prosecutors because it allows them to draw on stereotypes about young black and Latino men as violent, hypersexual and dangerous. In front of a jury, that can foment prejudice.
Not only have I seen this firsthand, but there is also empirical evidence that reveals just how prejudicial rap lyrics can be. For example, in the late 1990s, psychologist Stuart Fischoff conducted a study to measure the effect of explicit rap lyrics on juries.
Participants were given basic biographical information about a hypothetical 18-year-old black male, but only some were shown a set of his violent, sexually explicit rap lyrics. Those who read the lyrics were significantly more likely to believe the man was capable of committing a murder than those who did not.
In a study conducted by social psychologist Carrie Fried, participants were given a set of violent lyrics without any indication of the artist or musical genre. In reality they were from the 1960 song “Bad Man’s Blunder” by the folk group Kingston Trio. Researchers told one group of participants that the lyrics were from a country song, and told the other group that they came from a rap song. In the end, participants who believed the lyrics came from a rap song were significantly more likely to view them as dangerous, offensive and in need of regulation. It’s worth noting that Fried’s study was replicated in 2016, with similar findings.
These studies – and others – highlight the enduring racial stereotypes that inform people’s perceptions of rap music. They also help explain an obvious double standard at work, one that the Supreme Court of New Jersey laid bare in a 2014 opinion that denounced the use of rap lyrics as evidence:
“One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song ‘I Shot the Sheriff,’ actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story ‘The Tell–Tale Heart,’ simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. Defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment.”
Unfortunately, however, they do receive different treatment, even as rap has emerged as one of the world’s most popular and influential genres.
It has also grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry, one that offers a chance at upward mobility, particularly in communities where such opportunities are desperately hard to come by.
Criminalizing it is cruel, unjust and silences some of the people most in need of a voice.
Alabama is the only state where people with multiple felony convictions are required to register with law enforcement and carry special ID cards, legal experts say. When felons are caught without them, they can be arrested and fined or jailed.
by Connor Sheets
When a sheriff’s deputy pulled Emmanuel Pullom over on a suburban street near Birmingham, Alabama, the night of Dec. 1, 2018, he suspected that Pullom had stolen the black Ford pickup he was driving.
The deputy handcuffed Pullom, searched the truck and then took him to the Jefferson County Jail in downtown Birmingham, according to the incident report.
But Pullom wasn’t charged with stealing the truck, which he says he had recently purchased from a friend. Instead, he was charged with failing to possess a piece of laminated paper that identified him as a felon.
“The cop said, ‘Where’s your felon card?’” Pullom recalled in an interview last month. “I said, ‘What kind of card?’ He said, ‘If you’ve got three felonies, you’ve got to get a felon card.’”
More than 300 people in Alabama have been charged since 2014 under a little-known, but long-standing state law requiring people with more than two felony convictions to register with their local sheriff’s offices and carry cards identifying them as repeat felons, according to arrest data analyzed by AL.com and ProPublica.
Violations carry the threat of jail time and fines. A man in north Alabama served a one-year sentence for failing to register as a felon and obtain a felon registration card.
While some other states have felon registration requirements, criminal law professors said they believe Alabama is the only one with a law requiring registration cards.
Legal experts say the law is likely unconstitutional and reminiscent of slavery-era restrictions that required black people in many parts of the South to present identification to white people on demand.
“The card is reminiscent of the cards Jews were forced to carry in the ghettos,” John H. Blume, a criminal law professor at Cornell Law School, said via email.
“It will also give police the ability to stop people they know are felons to see if they have their cards and … to avoid things like reasonable suspicion and probable cause.”
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, which arrested Pullom, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran, the top law enforcement official in Alabama’s second-largest county, defended the requirement. He said the charge “gives you a good stepping stone” for jailing someone suspected of other crimes, when there otherwise isn’t enough evidence to make an arrest.
“This guy’s a five-time felon or something,” Cochran said in an interview. “And you say, ‘Hey, where’s your convicted felon thing?’ And he says, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ You say, ‘Well, hey, bud, I [didn’t] have nothing to arrest you on, but now I do.’”
“‘So now I’m gonna arrest you, now I’m gonna inventory your car and tow it in. And if I found 5 pounds of pot in your car, then you’re gonna be arrested for trafficking marijuana.’”
Repeat felon Derrick Rhodes has a different take. In 2016, he was arrested in Henry County and charged with failing to possess a felon ID card. Rhodes, 41, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 days of suspended confinement and two years of probation and ordered to pay hundreds of dollars of fees, fines and court costs. He has since obtained a felon registration card that he carries everywhere he goes
“What’s the use of having a card on you when you’re a free man?” he said. “I’m not their prisoner no more.”
“It Shall Be the Duty”
Beginning in the 1930s, jurisdictions across the U.S. instituted so-called criminal registration laws in response to rising concerns about organized crime and other illegal activity.
In 1935, Birmingham became an early adopter of such restrictions when it passed a city ordinance requiring that felons register with law enforcement “upon their arrival in the city,” The New York Times reported at the time.
“Police officials hope that the law will give them an accurate check upon the criminal element. … It also is expected that it will result in an exodus of a great many known criminals.”
Many such laws and ordinances have since been invalidated or repealed, but the federal government and individual states have instituted a series of increasingly restrictive sex offender registry laws since the 1980s. And many states and localities across the U.S. have approved narrower registration laws that apply to people convicted of specific crimes, such as arson, serious drug crimes and gun violence.
Florida, Mississippi and Nevada have felon registration requirements, but they do not require felons to have or carry registration cards, sometimes referred to as “ex-felon cards.” In fact, Nevada law specifically bars such requirements: “The sheriff of a county or the chief of police of a city shall not require a convicted person to carry a registration card.”
In 1966, a special session of the Alabama Legislature approved the Alabama Felon Registration Act, which instituted the statewide felon registration requirements that remain in place today.
Lawmakers passed the legislation “to aid the law enforcement agencies in detecting and preventing and reducing recidivistic behavior,” according to an article about the law published in the 1966-67 edition of the Alabama Law Review.
The law requires that anyone who “resides” in Alabama and “has been convicted more than twice of a felony” anywhere in the U.S. must “register within 24 hours after his arrival in the county” and obtain a registration card from the sheriff’s office.
“It shall be the duty of such person to carry the card with him at all times while he is within the county and to exhibit the same to any officer of a municipality, a county or the state upon request.”
The maximum penalty for failing to obey the felon registration law is 30 days in jail and a $50 fine per day spent in violation, which can add up to lengthy and expensive sentences over time.
From 2014 to 2018, there have been 235 arrests in Alabama on state charges of not having a felon ID card and 53 arrests for the separate charge of failure to register with the local sheriff. Police also made nine arrests of felons who failed to notify the local sheriff of a change of address. Individual law enforcement agencies across the state have reported dozens more arrests on the charges in 2019 and this year.
Of those arrested on the charges between 2014 and 2018, about 61% were white and 38% were black, according to the state data. As of July 2019, the U.S. Census estimated that 69% of Alabama residents were white and 27% were black.
Such arrests are made in large urban counties like Jefferson, Montgomery and Baldwin, as well as in more rural counties like Franklin in Alabama’s northwest corner and Henry in the southeast.
Public records show that some local jurisdictions in Alabama have additional requirements. Arrest reports show that people have been charged in recent years in Alabama towns including Gadsden and Dothan with violating local ordinances requiring felon registration and identification.
A limited number of places outside Alabama, such as Zanesville, Ohio, and the Borough of Berlin, New Jersey, also have felon identification laws or ordinances on their books.
Sometimes people serve serious time for failing to carry their felon IDs.
Quincy Tisdale says that at the time of his arrest in August 2014, he was “the only black man living on Sand Mountain,” a low ridge in north Alabama. “So I stuck out like a sore thumb.” He was also dating a white woman, a fact that he says drew the ire of some white residents of the largely rural area, which has a long history of racial tension.
So the 38-year-old father of three says he was regularly pulled over and searched by Marshall County sheriff’s deputies and local police officers, but they never had cause to arrest him.
One morning a Marshall County sheriff’s deputy stopped Tisdale in his silver Kia sedan as he drove through the small town of Grant and informed him that he had found a reason to lock him up.
“When he pulled me over, he said, ‘Didn’t I tell you I was gonna get your black ass one day?’” Tisdale recalled during a January interview in the living room of the friend’s home in Scottsboro, where he is currently staying.
“He said: ‘I know you don’t got your felon ID card. Come on, get out of the car.’ … When they arrested me that day, that’s the first I heard I had to have a felony card or I’d go to jail.”
Tisdale, who had previous felony convictions for crimes including burglary, theft and assault, was arrested and booked into the Marshall County Jail and charged with failure to register with the sheriff’s office and failure to possess an ex-felon card. It is the only time Tisdale has been arrested in the county, according to state court records. His bond was set at $1,500, court records show.
Tisdale pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2014 and was sentenced to 365 days in the Marshall County Community Corrections work release program — a residential jail alternative in which inmates earn money to pay down fines, fees and restitution by working for contracted companies. Tisdale says that while he was at the work release, he worked long hours deboning and loading chickens at a poultry processing plant.
In February 2015, after breaking the rules of the community corrections facility and getting into an argument with an employee, Tisdale was moved to the Marshall County Jail, where he served out the remainder of his sentence, court records show. He says that the punishment upended his life.
“When you take me away from my family, and I’m supporting my family, you’re pushing them out onto the streets,” he said.
Marshall County Sheriff Phil Sims, who became sheriff in January 2019, said his office does not “actively” seek out people violating the state’s felon registration and identification law.
“It’s not one of those things where we’re going out banging on doors or I’ve got someone assigned to look for people who haven’t registered,” he said. “It would generally be a secondary charge where there’s some other type of law enforcement contact like a domestic violence call or something.”
But he said that the law serves a valuable purpose, “kind of like the sex offender registry,” and that he would enforce it if his office were notified that someone in Marshall County had failed to register as a felon or obtain a registration card. Neither Sims’ predecessor, J. Scott Walls, who was sheriff at the time of Tisdale’s arrest, nor Walls’ attorney responded to requests for comment.
Tisdale says it’s an indignity to be forced to carry a felon ID card for the rest of his life: “It reminds me I’m a criminal, day in and day out.”
Like each of the criminal law professors interviewed for this story, Pullom said he never knew that Alabama required people with more than two felony convictions to carry registration cards.
He said that he only found out about the requirement when he was arrested for violating it, and that he believes the charge was little more than a pretense to apprehend him.
“Did I have drugs on me? Did I do anything wrong? No,” said Pullom, who has been convicted of several felonies including shooting a gun into an occupied building, drug possession and theft. “They were just trying to come up with something to arrest me for.”
In fact, the arresting deputy wrote in the incident report that the felon ID card charge would allow the sheriff’s office to hold Pullom in jail and “follow up with a property crimes detective … on any other charges.” The felon ID charge was dismissed two months after his arrest and no additional charges were filed.
Lynneice Washington, district attorney for Jefferson County’s Bessemer Division, said that “you’re marking a person” by requiring them to carry a felon registration card. She added that she does not recall having ever heard of felon registration or ID charges being brought in her division, which is a subsection of the county that does not include Adamsville, where Pullom was arrested.
“Just to stop a person because you know them and know their history and to ask them if they have a felon identification card and that’s an automatic charge if they don’t have it, I don’t agree with that,” she said.
In the 1957 case Lambert v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of felon registration. A woman named Virginia Lambert had been found guilty of violating a Los Angeles municipal law that made it “unlawful for ‘any convicted person’ to be or remain in Los Angeles for a period of more than five days without registering.” The conviction was upheld on appeal.
But the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the California ruling. The majority wrote that Lambert’s constitutional right to due process had been violated because she most likely had no “actual knowledge” that not registering as a felon was a crime.
“So the question would be whether Alabama has done a better job giving notice to someone that they need to register and/or get the ID card,” Rachel E. Barkow, a law professor and faculty director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at New York University School of Law, said via email.
The piecemeal enforcement of Alabama’s felon registration and identification law also raises concerns, according to Alvin Bragg, a visiting law professor at New York Law School and co-director of the school’s Racial Justice Project.
Two-thirds of the state’s 67 counties saw no such charges brought between 2014 and 2018.
“Ultimately every law has got to be rational and not arbitrary and that’s the standard of review,” Bragg said. “I think this comes perilously close to being irrational and excessively arbitrary.”
Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Law and Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, said it would be difficult to argue that a year in jail is not a disproportionately harsh punishment for failing to carry a felon ID card.
“It would be challenged as an 8th Amendment violation,” she said. “It’s disproportionate to the underlying offense. And cruel and unusual — is there another locality that would sentence you to a year for that? Probably not. So that’s pretty unusual.”
Sometimes simply failing to change an address can land a person behind bars.
That’s what happened to Michael Kelsay, who has been on law enforcement’s radar in Baldwin County for years. The father of three says that he sold his pickup this winter because he was tired of being pulled over nearly every time he left his trailer park.
A self-described former drug addict and petty criminal, he has a rap sheet spanning two decades, during which time he has been convicted of crimes including drug possession, negotiating a worthless instrument and receiving stolen property. The 39-year-old has also been arrested on two separate occasions for crimes related to felon registration.
The first arrest took place one morning in August 2014, when Baldwin County sheriff’s deputies banged on the door at Kelsay’s mother’s house looking for him. When he came to the door, he says they informed him they had heard he was the last person seen with a criminal suspect they were trying to find.
After searching the area and determining the suspect was not there, Kelsay says one of the deputies ran his name through an electronic system, saw he was a repeat felon and asked him for his felon identification card.
“I show it to him. I’m like, ‘Boom, got it.’ They’re just grasping at straws, I feel like. Like, I’m good now,” Kelsay said during an interview in his kitchen last month.
“And then he hit me with, ‘Well, you don’t live at this address anymore,’ because I told him I was staying at my mom’s. I didn’t see the trap coming.”
Kelsay was arrested and charged with failing “to register, within 24 hours, his/her change of address or place of residence with the sheriff of Baldwin County,” according to court records. He says he was temporarily living at his mother’s house, 3 miles down the same road in Bay Minette from the address listed on his felon ID card.
Kelsay posted $5,000 bond and was released from jail three days after the arrest.
He was arrested a second time a month later and charged with failing to possess a felon registration card — he said the sheriff’s office had seized his card at the time of the first arrest because the address was incorrect and he had not replaced it — and again failing to notify the sheriff’s office that he had changed addresses. He pleaded guilty to the three charges that resulted from the two arrests and was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 30 days in jail and ordered to pay three $50 fines.
Anthony Lowery, chief deputy of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, defended the arrests.
“He was knowingly, willingly violating the law,” he said. “Obviously anytime you have a known convicted felon — like in this case Mr. Kelsay has been convicted multiple times of different crimes — [felon registration] does help. It’s a tool to protect the public.”
Lowery added that the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office pursues people who break the state’s felon registration law:
“If you’re asking if we’re just going out searching for these people, on occasion yes. … We’re charged with enforcing the law and if you’re a felon and you’re required to register and you’re violating the law then we’re going to enforce that.”
What sticks with Kelsay to this day is the idea that he was arrested because the law forever puts him in a separate category.
“I was flabbergasted by it. I couldn’t believe they took me to jail for that,” he said. “That’s what really bothers me about it is I feel like they charged me with that because they wanted me to go to jail.”
Republished with permission under license from Propublica.
The measure, championed by Ben Baker, a Republican lawmaker, calls for establishing review boards who would determine whether materials in libraries contain or promote “nudity, sexuality, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse.” In addition, the boards, which would be comprised of parents, would root out materials lacking “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Librarians who defy the review boards by buying and lending such materials would be subject to misdemeanor charges, fines upward of US$500, and a potential jail sentence up to one year.
The children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, was challenged and banned from libraries around the country for many years after its publication in 2005. The picture book is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo who adopt and care for an egg and then keep caring for their daughter, Tango, after she hatched.
Separately, opponents of the storytime program known as “Drag Queen Story Hour” at libraries and other community venues, have held protests to ban and condemn such events aimed at children. The objections voiced by protesters stem from their belief that drag performers are evil and amoral and that exposure to drag queens will, in their view, cause children to become gay.
The Missouri bill is not the first of its kind. State lawmakers in Colorado and Maine both tried to pass similar legislation in 2019. Both efforts failed.
Librarians are professionals. Librarians working in K-12 school libraries also earn certification as school library media specialists. Librarians have expertise in children’s literature, collection development, child development, psychology, readers’ advisory, reference services and other specialized skills needed to serve children and young adults in a variety of settings.
In short, librarians are more than capable of selecting and purchasing quality books and other materials for people of all ages.
To imply otherwise, as I believe the proposed Missouri measure would, is to insult these skilled educators. If it should be enacted, I would consider it a potential threat to information access, intellectual freedom and the freedom to read.
A study of bail judges in the Miami and Philadelphia areas suggests that both black and white judges show bias against black defendants.
The study, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that black defendants are 2.4 percentage points more likely than white defendants to be detained while they await their court hearings. The average bail for black defendants is $7,281 higher than for white defendants.
It appears that bail judges rely on racial stereotypes to predict which defendants will commit another crime if released, the researchers explain. In reality, some white defendants are much more likely than black defendants to get arrested again after their release, the team’s analysis suggests.
“We find suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants,” write the authors of the paper, David Arnold and Will Dobbie of Princeton University and Crystal S. Yang of Harvard Law School.
Generally speaking, after an arrest, defendants who seem less risky are released on their own recognizance, meaning they are free to go after promising to appear in court for upcoming proceedings, or they are released if they meet certain conditions such as paying a bail amount or posting a bail bond to guarantee their presence in court. Some defendants are not released because they cannot meet bail.
For the study, researchers examined 162,836 court cases representing 93,914 defendants in Philadelphia County from 2010 to 2014 as well as 93,417 cases from 65,944 defendants in Miami-Dade County between 2006 and 2014.
The findings are consistent with another study published in 2018 that uses machine learning techniques to show that bail judges make mistakes in predicting what a defendant would do if released. That study indicates judges make significant prediction errors for defendants of all races.
Some other key findings of this study include:
Racial bias is higher among bail judges in Miami-Dade than in Philadelphia.
Racial bias is higher among inexperienced judges and part-time bail judges. Experienced judges are better at predicting defendant behavior. The scholars find that judges in Miami who are considered to be experienced have 9.5 years of experience working in the bail system, on average. Miami judges considered to be inexperienced have an average of 2.5 years of experience.
“If racially biased prediction errors among inexperienced judges are an important driver of black-white disparities in pretrial detention, providing judges with increased opportunities for training or on-the-job feedback could play an important role in decreasing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” the researchers write. “Our findings also suggest that providing judges with data-based risk assessments may also help decrease unwarranted racial disparities.”
"Your children ain't violent because they black" … "what are you putting in my malt liquor white boy? … "malt liquor is sold by white companies but only sold in black neighborhoods and you ain't checked it to see what's in it!" – Dick Gregory, 2008 State of the Black Union
The violence including murders happening in the City of St. Louis is a symptom of decades of intentional oppression, poverty, and exclusion. The violence in St. Louis is concentrated mostly in low income, black neighborhoods, 40% of black households in St. Louis are living in poverty. Those neighborhoods became low income because resources and opportunities were removed.
We need to stop trying to treat the symptom (violence) rather than finding a cure to the causes of the disease. As long as the disease festers in our community, the symptoms will keep multiplying and infecting other communities. Victims of poverty, children who are missing basic necessities and who struggle with poor healthcare or nutrition are more likely to encounter or engage in violence.
When you're black and poor in St. Louis, your opportunities to escape poverty are sabotaged. Schools in black neighborhoods are designed to make kids fail by providing substandard education, eliminating trade programs such as carpentry, defunding enrichment programs like art and music, non-existent honors program and criminalizing normal childhood behavior. Just last month, a court ruled that it was reasonable to handcuff a black 7-year-old hearing-impaired child for crying because he was being taunted by a group of boys.
Young black men are profiled and targeted as gun-toting drug dealers, although white people are more likely to deal drugs. Black people who do end up selling drugs, often do so because they become desperate and don't see any other option. Most people would never choose behaviors resulting in prison or death if they had other options. Harsh punishment breeds resentment which can lead to violence, we need to focus more on treatment and education.
Nearly four years ago, we published an article titled, "Crime Won't Decrease Until Oppression Decreases". That year, St. Louis had the highest murder rate in the country and not much has changed, except the increasing number of young children dying. Our communities are under attack and our primary response is to hold vigils and rallies. It's time to stop begging for change and start demanding change with direct action!
"Protest minus disruption or violence equal failure". We need to disrupt the systems that benefit from our oppression and destruction. The law is the primary means by which our community is oppressed but very few black people understand how to perform legal research and use that research to benefit them. Unscrupulous businesses, slum landlords, shady creditors, and even corrupt municipalities weaponize ignorance to enrich themselves.
Question everything, especially mass media and even things you've believed to be true your entire life. We've been fed a diet of half-truths and lies all our lives. During the 1980s and 1990s, people bought into the lies about crack and addicts were criminals that should be locked up. Now that white people are increasingly becoming addicted to drugs, its a national health crisis and suddenly the error of criminalizing addicts became clear.
City Government & Police
Now some are calling for more police and the criminalization of gun possession, the end result would be more black people criminally charged for behaviors considered a constitutional right for everyone else. Mayor Lyda Krewson stated St. Louis should be allowed to issue concealed weapons permits.
Where there are no guns, there are no gun deaths. Let me be clear, I am not pro-guns at any cost. If it was possible, I could even be in favor of an absolute gun ban for everyone. However, I believe it would be almost impossible to repeal the second amendment. With that said, I would never support restricting the rights of only a particular group of people.
In Missouri, it is your constitutional right to bear arms including a concealed weapon. Any attempt to deprive the citizens of St. Louis of that right is unconstitutional. The vast majority of people committing violent crimes in St. Louis are criminals using illegally obtained guns. Requiring gun permits in the city would create barriers to law-abiding poor (mostly black) residents from being able to afford the permit fees. As Tupac stated, people living in the most dangerous areas need weapons the most.
Recently, Mayor Krewson said she wants to relax the residency rule to hire police officers. The result of that policy would be more racist white officers policing a population they don't understand in a community they have no ties to. Racist cops and a previously racist prosecutor unfairly targeted and criminalized black men especially youth. Some were forced to accept plea deals rather than spend months in jail awaiting a trial. Atlanta’s population is about 54 percent African-American and 38 percent white. Its police force is 58 percent African-American and 38 percent white and Atlanta pays officers roughly the same as St. Louis City. Atlanta doesn't seem to have a problem recruiting and retaining black police officers, so why does St. Louis? Racism may not be the only reason, but it is among the reasons.
It's generally understood that police exist to keep order. What's not understood is that order is white supremacist patriarchy. – Zellieimani(Twitter 10-9-2014)
The year following Zellieimani's tweet, a leaked memo revealed that 12 white police officers on a specialized narcotics team in Dothan, Alabama, planted drugs and guns on over 1,000 innocent young Black men. All of the officers reportedly were members of a Neoconfederate organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center labels "racial extremists". Cobb County, GA police Lt. Greg Abbott, stated, "But you're not black. Remember? We only kill black people," to a white woman afraid to move her hands during a traffic stop.
St. Louis Police Department has a long reputation for being a racist organization. Most recently an investigation of racist Facebook posts resulted in 22 St. Louis City police officers being barred from bringing cases to the prosecutor. How many innocent young Black men did those 22 St. Louis police officers plant drugs and guns on?
Mayor Krewson if you want more black police officers, partner with St. Louis Public Schools and bring back the officer friendly program; encourage officers to go into predominately black schools to remove the fear of encounters and to spark interest in careers in law enforcement. How about creating a junior police academy program, similar to ROTC, to get high school students interested in law enforcement. Create an apprenticeship program where kids from high crime areas can apprentice in police offices during the summers before their junior and senior years. They could help in call centers, data entry, general office tasks, social media, and other functions where they become more familiar and comfortable with the idea of law enforcement as a career. Find out how other cities such as Atlanta recruit and retain black officers and at the same time develop methods to weed out racist and abusive officers.
The City has announced plans to implement Cure Violence, a program created by Gary Slutkin, a white doctor in Chicago. I'm not sure giving $8.5 million to a white savior is the best way to go, the staff members with decision-making power appear to be all white. Cure Violence began as the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention in 1995 and implemented its first program, known as CeaseFire, in 2000, but Chicago aka Chiraq does not have the best reputation in regards to violence.
We already have plenty of non-profit organizations in St. Louis, why not fund and utilize existing programs; Cure Violence doesn't seem much different from the efforts of Better Family Life. Another underfunded organization doing great work helping at youth risk is the Demetrius Johnson Foundation.
Opportunity is the best cure for violence that occurs in the City of St. Louis!
How about encouraging partnership between organizations. Instead of wasting millions of dollars with developers like Paul McKee, funnel funds to joint program between St. Louis YouthBuild and North Grand Neighborhood Services (NGNS). This would provide construction job training to at-risk youth while at the same time restoring St. Louis' housing stock and providing affordable housing.
Why not call a non-profit summit a sort of meet and greet where St. Louis Government and non-profits can get together and figure out how they can partner to solve issues. There are plenty of underfunded grassroots organizations already in target neighborhoods doing quality work and could do wonders with additional funding.
Solutions to the problems facing the black community will require individual and collective sacrifice. Solutions will require time, effort, creativity, and money.
Beware of Strangers Bearing Gifts
What seems like an act of goodwill may mask a hidden destructive or hostile agenda. In order to find effective solutions, we must first realize that what might look like a solution could actually be a trap. There are some who disguise themselves as friends but have declared war on black people and "all warfare is based on deception".
Margaret Sanger, the founder of what today is Planned Parenthood, was a racist eugenicist who wanted to exterminate the black population thru birth control. Under the pretense of better health and family planning, Sanger deceived and convinced some of the most prominent black doctors and well educated black clergy members into supporting her scheme. The black elites were so concerned with economic empowerment and garnering the respect of whites, that they jeopardized the very survival of Black people in America.
It seems to me from my experience … that while the colored Negroes have great respect for white doctors they can get closer to their own members and more or less lay their cards on the table which means their ignorance, superstitions and doubts.
We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal.
We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members. – Margaret Sanger: 1939 Letter to Dr. Clarence Gamble
The Civil Rights movement reached its peak with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The vicious racists who killed Emmett Till, bombed churches, sicked dogs and sprayed hoses didn't just suddenly disappear, they simply faded into the background. Ku Klux Klan members traded their sheets and hoods for police uniforms, judge robes, the suits of politicians and prosecutors. Since overt discrimination had been outlawed, they implemented a tactic of covert racism.
Racist politicians created policies that sabotaged President Johnson's Great Society legislation including the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Food Stamp Act of 1964, Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Programs created during Johnson's administration were implemented in ways that wreaked destruction on the black community. Listen to Dr. Umar Johnson's discussion about how the black community has been under attack since 1970.
Between 1934 thru 1962, St. Louis' murder rate was usually between 6-13 per 100,000 people. After 1963 it begins to rise and then rises further during Nixon's "War on Black People", then again during Reagan's first term and then peaked during the crack epidemic. Chicago experienced a similar trend, 1974 was Chicago's deadliest year with 970 homicides, we checked because Cure Violence originated there.
More recently, three-strike laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, truth in sentencing laws, harsher punishment for certain drugs so-called solutions promoted to reduce crime resulted in mass incarceration and destroyed generations within the black and brown communities. Desperation to reduce gun violence appears to be setting the stage for gun possession to become the new mass incarceration tool.
Others Don't Care
Although oppressive discriminatory practices by others are directly and indirectly responsible for many of the issues plaguing the black community, most people outside our community don't care.
How often do you think about those 2.8 billion people on the planet who struggle to survive on less than $2 a day, and more than one billion people who lack reasonable access to safe drinking water?
Do you ever think about how many of those people's are forced to work in dangerous conditions so that you can purchase cheap products at Wal-Mart and DollarTree?
Probably not, because you're too busy concentrating on your problems. That's how other people feel about our problems, they don't care. Dave Chappelle expressed this sentiment during his NetFlix special, "Sticks and Stones" while talking about the opioid and heroin crisis.
Regardless who caused our problems, we better work at fixing them, because others don't care enough to fix them for us.
Support Our Champions
A person who truly fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else is a champion. Champions are rare, so when you have one, it behooves you to vigorously support them. Kimberly Gardner has become an unexpectant champion. I've never met Kimberly Gardner, but I did vote for her.
In December 2016, prior to Ms. Gardner's swearing-in ceremony, I stated in a post, "if Ms. Gardner proves to be a fair prosecutor, there will certainly be those that will attempt to distort her statements, vilify her actions and generally discredit her. There is a private prison system that stands to lose millions of dollars under a non-oppressive system".
Kimberly. Gardner has exceeded my wildest expectations, shown tremendous courage, and has gained my utmost respect. She's actually trying to fight the disease. She's created a list of officers who she won't accept cases from including 22 officers for racist Facebook post. Ms. Gardner has removed or reduced amounts of cash bond for minor, nonviolent offenses. She is also expanding diversion and drug court programs and ending prosecutions of low-level marijuana possession cases.
Two white prosecutors who served under Gardner's predecessor, Jennifer Joyce, conspired with white police officers to cover up a police beating of a handcuffed suspect, recently lost their law licenses because of their crimes committed while prosecutors.
The white St. Louis Police Officers' Association, has called for Gardner's resignation. Jeffrey Roorda, the association's spokesperson was fired from the Arnold, MO police department for making false statements and filing false reports.
It's not surprising that a police association with a racist history would target the City's first black prosecutor, especially since she is holding police accountable for their unethical and illegal actions. The Ethical Society of Police, founded by African American Police Officers was created to address race-based discrimination within the community and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.
As long as Ms. Gardner continues to champion our rights and act as a buffer between police abuses, we need to provide as much support as we can provide to her and others who similarly act on our behalf.
Withdraw Support from Betrayers
I felt betrayed after the democratic mayoral primary. Of the four major black candidates, I had previously voted for three. Antonio French was the only candidate I hadn't voted for because I did not live in his ward, but my parents did. As I mentioned in "Black Ego lost the St. Louis Mayoral Race", "How is it possible that three intelligent, seasoned politicians didn't understand they would split the black vote so severely that none of them would win?"
When I see all the obstacles Kimberly Gardner is facing, I often wonder how things might have been different if she had a black mayor to work with. Remember, much of her opposition is coming from the police who are under the mayor's chain of command. I also wonder if the violence might have been reduced and some of those children's lives spared if things had worked out differently.
I've lived in the city for nearly 40 years and moved shortly after the last election. However, if still a city resident, I would not vote for any of the candidates who couldn't work together to ensure a black power structure in St. Louis City.
We must respect different ideas. No one idea or solution will solve all our issues and problems. Just because your idea is different from mine doesn't make yours wrong. We need to work more closely together on the things were agree rather than fighting over what we disagree. Disagreement slows progress. "United we stand, divided we fall".
Washington vs Du Bois
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) the most influential black leader of his time preached a philosophy of self-help, racial solidarity and accommodation. He urged blacks to accept discrimination for the time being and concentrate on elevating themselves through hard work and material prosperity thru education in the crafts, industrial and farming skills.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963) a founding member of the NAACP, advocated political action and a civil rights agenda. He believed that developing a group of college-educated blacks, 10% of the black population “the Talented Tenth” would provide direction and leadership for the other 90% to change their social and economic status. Although Du Bois early on agreed with Washington’s strategy, later he decided it would serve only to perpetuate white oppression, which he expressed in his book, "The Souls of Black Folk".
The Washington/Du Bois dispute divided African-American leaders into two camps; Washington's accommodationist philosophy or Du Bois philosophy of agitation and protest for civil rights. Washington was born a slave, didn't know who his father was, was raised in the south and taught himself to read. Du Bois was born three years after the Civil War, was raised in Great Barrington, MA, a relatively tolerant and integrated community of 4,000 with only about 50 blacks. With encouragement from his teachers, Du Bois was the first black student to graduate from his high school.
Washington's and Du Bois' circumstances and upbringing were polar opposites, so naturally, because of their vastly different experience, their perspectives were different, so they had different ideas and solutions. We needed both Washington's practical approach for the masses of black people especially in the South and Du Bois approach of developing educated leadership. Those two giants might have achieved so much more working together instead of working against each other.
King vs Malcolm X
Half a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X would also split black leadership into two camps. Again, we have two men with vastly different backgrounds. King was the descendant of prominent ministers went to college earned a Ph.D. and became a minister himself. Malcolm X's father was murder and he became a foster child after his mother was hospitalized with mental issues, he later engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping and went to prison where he became enlightened by another inmate. Dr. King's non-violent integration movement and Malcolm X's any means necessary racial separatism philosophy were both valid strategies. Unfortunately, they both denounced the other's strategy.
There are roughly 44 million Black people in the United States and we all face some form of discrimination. Forty-six percent of us are in poverty, the working poor or the working class earning $35,000 or less; 40% are in the middle class earning between $35-100K, the upper 14% includes the upper middle class and wealthy. Poverty by itself does not necessarily result in violence, the majority of poor people are non-violent. Poverty coupled with discrimination, oppression and poverty being criminalized, people become desperate and or hopeless. Those at the bottom face the most number of barriers and experience the worst oppression.
"The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose." – James Baldwin
Countries have diplomats and soldiers working together employing both peaceful tactics and force when necessary. There's no reason a movement can't utilize different tactics at the same time to arrive at a common goal. Near the end of their lives, both Malcolm X and King slightly adjusted their philosophies. A year before his death, King stated, "My Dream Has Turned Into a Nightmare". Like Washington and Du Bois, King and Malcolm X might have achieved more working with one another.
Groups such as the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) are increasingly aware of the need for self-defense and may one day be positioned as a deterrent against violence from outside groups. Organized armed groups of black men might even organize into neighborhood patrols.
Violence isn't always physical, sometime we must inflict economic violence to achieve our goals. Imagine what would happen if a large percentage of black people boycotted Christmas to protest a particular issue or form of oppression. Affected retailers and manufacturers might be motivated to speak out or intervene. If corporations can speak up for LGBT bathroom rights, the companies we spend our dollars with should speak up for us as well.
Even though the St. Louis area is home to SLU, Wash. U, Harris-Stowe, UMSL, Fontbonne, SLCC, Ranken and a number of other colleges and universities, the quality of education in the City of St. Louis has been horrible for decades and no one can seem to come up with solutions.
Washington University has a $7.5 billion endowment, St. Louis University's endowment is $1.3 billion. Wouldn't it be great if those and other institutions funded grants or scholarships to St. Louis Public School students who commit to teaching in the district for a minimum number of years. Those teachers would then be able to better relate and understand the challenges of their students because they were those students.
But it probably won't happen. There are many smart people at Wash. U. and SLU, if they wanted to help, they probably would have done something before now.
Wash. U. and SLU both have law schools. Certainly they've known for decades about abuses occurring in St. Louis area courts. After just a few visits to courtrooms, I saw the abuses instantly, that's why I created this self-help legal information site by myself. Those law schools could have easily provided meaningful online self-help legal information decades ago.
Maybe the city could partner with Ranken to offer technical education to students who commit to a revitalization program where their skill would be used to help repair the houses of elderly and disabled residents. Instead of burdening poor residents with housing violation fines and court fees, maybe they could be referred to the revitalization program for low-cost repairs and repayment arrangements.
Independently educate yourself and your children. Supplement your child's education with additional material, especially if they attend public schools; "how can you expect powerful people to give you the training, give you the education to take their power away from them".
What can you do individually to make things better?
Educate yourself thru self-study by using public libraries, the Internet and other resources to develop new skills so you can develop sources of income outside of your job. This is how businesses are created which leads to the employment of others.
Where you spend your money is where your create jobs. Patronize businesses in your own neighborhood which supports job creation.
Before you stop patronizing a business in your neighborhood, talk to or write the owner and express the reasons why you are dissatisfied with their product or service so they might improve.
Black business owners, understand decades of negative imagery and stereotypes put black businesses at a disadvantage, even among our own. Most of us are familiar with the saying "black people have to work twice as hard to get half as much". Your business has to price its products and service competitively, you must treat your customer with respect, you must invest profits back into your business and constantly improve.
Share your knowledge with others. Not everyone knows what you do. Sometimes the difference between someone failing and succeeding is the proper knowledge. Think about the knowledge and advice that was passed along to you and how helpful a particular piece of advice was. Give that gift of knowledge to someone else, it could quite literally save someone's life.
Volunteer or donate to an organization trying to make a difference in St. Louis.
Ask your church or any organization you donate money to explain exactly how they use your donated money.
Reach out and get to know your neighbors. Join or start a neighborhood watch or association.
Stand up for your individual rights no matter how small. Rights and privileges are seldom taken away swiftly; they are usually taken away slowly almost unnoticed until one day they are gone
Dr. Kwaw Imana, Class of 2000 at Morehouse College, delivered a powerful Valedictorian speech where he rejected a Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and most prestigious scholarship in the world, because of Cecil Rhodes racist history. Imana compared it to a person of Jewish descent being offered a Hitler scholarship and challenged his fellow graduates to create businesses and institutions in black communities.
Churches and Organizations
Black churches, organizations and community members could partner together form a non-profit corporation to act as a central clearinghouse for resources. Black organizations and institutions compete against each other for government grant funding. Competing for that funding drains resources and once secured, yearly audits are required to show how funds were spent. Pooling the resources of multiple organization under the umbrella of a single entity would be more efficient and those resources could become much more effective.
"the educated Negro does not understand or is unwilling to start small enterprises which make the larger ones possible." – Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro 1933
As we mentioned during a reparations post, Black churches take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year, which is greater than the GDP of dozens of entire nations. How much of those funds are being spent to benefit the community in which you live? If a fraction of church donations were pooled together think about the endless possibilities: schools, homeless shelters, urgent care clinics, hospitals, business incubators, convention venues and more. Consider how the Catholic church builds schools, hospitals, senior housing, and nursing homes all under the Catholic Charities Umbrella.
The Betrayal of the Black Elite
We have declared drug use to be a health crisis, so we need to decriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs, otherwise, we are declaring drug addiction is a crime. In the United States, drugs became illegal in the early 1900s due to racism and drug enforcement tends to highly disproportionately affect minorities.
Many other countries including Spain, Italy, Germany, and Mexico have already decriminalized small amounts of drug possession. Canada is treating opioid addiction with prescription-grade heroin. In August 2009, Argentina’s supreme court declared in a landmark ruling that it was unconstitutional to prosecute citizens for having drugs for their personal use – "adults should be free to make lifestyle decisions without the intervention of the state".
Decriminalizing drugs would reduce many of the criminal justice encounters that create conditions which result in violence. It will also free police officers to concentrate on other crimes.
Violence always indicates that something else is wrong. Treating violence as a symptom of a disease is a step in the right direction. As long as the disease goes untreated, all of us including our children are in danger of becoming victims.
A handful of people participated in the civil rights movement that provided new rights to everyone and protected denied rights to oppressed people. Had more people participated greater achievements might have been made.
What will you do? If your plan is to let others tackle this problem, then it will never be solved. If you can identify just one person who needs help and then assist them, you can change the world!