We are nutrition and food policy researchers who have studied the effects of SNAP on the health and well-being of low-income Americans. Should this change go into effect, we believe millions of Americans, especially children, and local communities would suffer.
“My eating habits have improved where I can eat more healthy than before,” a Massachusetts woman who had recently been approved for SNAP told us. “It is like night and day – the difference between surviving and not surviving.”
SNAP benefits also ripple through the economy. They lead to money being spent at local stores, freeing up cash to pay rent and other bills. Every US$1 invested in SNAP generates $1.79 in economic activity, according to the USDA.
Trying again and again
The Trump administration has repeatedly attempted to slash SNAP and make it harder for people who qualify for benefits to get them.
The Trump administration also worked with Republicans in Congress to try to tighten eligibility requirements. Had this policy been implemented, all beneficiaries between the ages of 18 and 59 deemed “able-bodied” would have had to prove they were working at least 20 hours per week or were enrolled in school. According to government projections, some 1.2 million Americans would have eventually lost their benefits as a result.
Congress, which would have needed to approve the change for it to take effect, rejected it in December 2018. The White House then sought to change work requirements through a new rule that has not yet taken effect.
In July 2019, the Trump administration again sought to restrict access to food stamps without any input from Congress, this time by going through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a program that gives low-income families with children cash to cover childcare and other expenses.
Currently, most states automatically enroll families in SNAP once they obtain TANF benefits. The new rule would prevent states from doing this. Even though 85% of TANF families also get SNAP benefits, the vast majority of them still live in poverty.
The Trump administration’s proposed budgets have also called for changing how the government helps low-income families get food they have trouble affording. Its 2019 budget proposal called for replacing half of SNAP benefits with what it called “harvest boxes” of nonperishable items like cereals, beans and canned goods.
According to research we conducted with low-income Americans, 79% of SNAP participants opposed this proposal, with one of the primary reasons being not being able to choose their own foods.
“People who are struggling are already demoralized,” a New Mexico woman who uses SNAP benefits told us. “Being able to make our own food decisions is something that keeps us feeling like human beings.”
Advocates for food aid fear that recent proposals to change how SNAP works would reduce the share of Americans who get these benefits by making it harder to qualify and enroll in the program. Should this major transformation ever occur, children and families won’t have access to critical benefits that help them avoid going hungry.
Since the economy is doing well overall, the number of people on food assistance programs has fallen. The reason for the decline is that the number of people who are eligible for these benefits rises when the economy falters and falls when conditions improve. As a result, the government is spending less on food stamps without cutting the SNAP budget.
Case in point, 7 million people have already left SNAP due to better economic stability. In parallel, federal spending on SNAP budget has dropped from $78 billion in 2013 to $64 billion in 2019.
If the Trump administration wants to shrink SNAP, reduce costs and have fewer low-income Americans receive benefits, we believe that the best thing it can do is to keep working to improve the economy – particularly for low-income Americans, who have been reaping fewer benefits from the improving economy than others in recent years.
The Trump administration has weakened legal protections for farmers and eased off enforcing rules on powerful meat companies.
by Isaac Arnsdorf
After years of working as a sheriff’s deputy and a car dealership manager, John Ingrum used his savings to buy a farm some 50 miles east of Jackson, Mississippi. He planned to raise horses on the land and leave the property to his son.
The farm, named Lovin’ Acres, came with a few chicken houses, which didn’t really interest Ingrum. But then a man showed up from Koch Foods, the country’s fifth-largest poultry processor and one of the main chicken companies in Mississippi. Koch Foods would deliver flocks and feed — all Ingrum would have to do is house the chicks for a few weeks while they grew big enough to slaughter. The company representative wowed Ingrum with projections for the stream of income he could earn, Ingrum recalled in an interview.
What Ingrum didn’t know was that those financial projections overlooked many realities of modern farming in the U.S., where much of the country’s agricultural output is controlled by a handful of giant companies. The numbers didn’t reflect the debt he might have to incur to configure his chicken houses to the company’s specifications. Nor did they reflect the risk that the chicks could show up sick or dead, or that the company could simply stop delivering flocks.
And that growing concentration of corporate power in agriculture would only add to the long odds Ingrum, as a black farmer, faced in the United States, where just 1.3% of the country’s farmers are black.
The shadow of slavery, sharecropping, and Jim Crow has left black farmers in an especially precarious position. Their farms tend to be smaller and their sales lower than the national average, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While white farmers benefited from government assistance such as the Homestead Act and land-grant universities, black farmers were largely excluded from owning land and accumulating wealth. In recent decades, black farmers accused the USDA of discriminating against them by denying them loans or forcing them to wait longer, resulting in a class-action lawsuit that settled for more than $1 billion.
Along with these historical disadvantages, black farmers say they have also encountered bias in dealing with some of the corporate giants that control their livelihood. In complaints filed with the USDA between 2010 and 2015, Ingrum and another black farmer in Mississippi said Koch Foods discriminated against them and used its market control to drive them out of business.
After the complaints by the farmers, an investigator for the USDA, which is responsible for regulating the industry, looked into Koch Foods’ dealings with those farmers and found “evidence of unjust discrimination,” according to a 700-page case file obtained by ProPublica. The investigator concluded that Koch Foods violated a law governing meat companies’ business practices.
The Trump administration has cut back on enforcing this law, with the USDA now conducting fewer investigations and imposing fewer fines, as ProPublica has reported. Koch Foods hasn’t faced any penalty.
Koch Foods declined to provide an interview with any of its executives or to answer detailed questions about its dealings with black farmers in Mississippi. A lawyer for the company said it denies wrongdoing.
The five largest chicken companies now make up 61% of the market, compared with 34% in the hands of the top four firms in 1986. As the biggest companies expanded their control, they raised farmers’ average pay by a mere 2.5 cents a pound from 1988 to 2016, while the wholesale price of chicken rose by 17.4 cents a pound, according to data from the USDA and the National Chicken Council.
Mississippi is the fifth-largest poultry-producing state, with more than 1,300 chicken farms. In a state where the population is 38% black, only 96 of those farms were operated by African Americans in 2012, the most recent USDA data available. From 2009 to 2017, Koch Foods went from having contracts with four black farmers in Mississippi to zero.
Koch (pronounced “cook”) Foods is based outside Chicago and supplies chicken, often sold under other brands, to major restaurants and retailers such as Burger King, Kroger and Walmart. The company, which is privately held, is not part of the business empire of the conservative billionaires Charles Koch and David Koch. The owner of Koch Foods, Joseph Grendys, has a fortune that Forbes estimates at $3.1 billion.
After Ingrum signed his contract to grow chickens for Koch Foods, in 2002, different company representatives kept coming with lists of expensive modifications they wanted Ingrum to make, according to an affidavit he provided to the USDA investigator. After Ingrum met all the specifications, the next representative went back on what the previous one said and wanted things done a different way, Ingrum said in the affidavit.
Chicken companies usually say they update their specifications to improve animal welfare or respond to consumer preferences like avoiding antibiotics. But Ingrum couldn’t find much logic in the changes Koch Foods wanted him to make. One service technician directed Ingrum to install lights in one place, the next one someplace else. Another time, the company wanted Ingrum to move a power line, even though it was out of the way of the feed trucks and bins. That cost him $6,000.
According to Ingrum’s affidavit, when he met with a manager about the shifting demands, the manager said, derisively, “I had a couple of y’all when I was at Sanderson,” another big chicken company. Ingrum asked the manager, who was white, what he meant by that. The manager didn’t answer Ingrum. Reached by ProPublica on his cellphone, the manager hung up.
Ingrum suspected that the truck drivers who delivered feed were shortchanging him, so he installed sensors to alert him when the drivers arrived. In 2007, according to his affidavit, Ingrum caught a driver failing to fill a whole feed bin. The company brushed it off as an honest mistake. But Ingrum had heard of drivers asking farmers for payoffs to get more feed, according to the affidavit.
In 2009, Ingrum spent $50,000 on renovations that Koch wanted. Then the company wanted Ingrum to rebuild his compost shed. That was another $5,000. Then Koch Foods said the shed had to be certified by a government inspector. Ingrum called the agency, which said the shed didn’t require approval and they only sent an inspector out once a year.
With Koch Foods delivering flocks to Ingrum’s farm less frequently than expected, he was making less money and falling behind on his loan payments. He looked into selling his farm. When a prospective buyer from Florida called Koch to inquire about a contract with them, a Koch employee scared him off by saying Ingrum’s farm needed $100,000 in repairs, according to Ingrum’s affidavit. The employee also swore at Ingrum’s real estate agent and spread a rumor that the bank had foreclosed, according to the affidavit. That wasn’t true, but it was becoming increasingly hard to avoid.
In 2010, Ingrum heard that the Obama administration was making a push to help farmers who were getting squeezed by consolidation in agriculture. Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were going around the country to hear from farmers about the problems in their markets. When they came to neighboring Alabama to meet with chicken farmers, Ingrum went and spoke on a panel.
At the hearing, Ingrum recounted how the company would pay him less if the birds were sick or underfed, even though the company supplied the chicks and the feed. Ingrum said he’d received a tray of 100 chicks with 35 to 40 already dead. Another time, he ran out of feed for three days and the chickens started eating one another.
“There’s no way it could be fair,” he said at the hearing, according to the transcript. “I had no control over the feed that they brought me.”
That night, when Ingrum returned home to Lovin’ Acres Farm, he found a note from Koch Foods saying his contract had expired.
The USDA investigator later inquired whether it was “solely a coincidence” that Koch Foods left the note at Ingrum’s farm on the same day he attended the hearing 300 miles away. A company supervisor said he “could not say.”
“I never got another chicken after going to that meeting over there in Alabama,” Ingrum, 55, said in an interview. “They put me slap out of business.”
As Ingrum ran out of money, the power company cut his electricity, but he refused to leave for three months. His former colleagues at the sheriff’s office had to come remove him. For the next five years, he stayed with relatives until he scraped together enough money from working at a car dealership to get back on his feet.
“Twenty years, everything I worked for, I lost it in one summer,” Ingrum said. “It just ruined me.”
Around the same time, two other black farmers in the area also stopped growing chickens for Koch Foods. Out of 173 chicken farmers under contract with Koch Foods in Mississippi, there was only one African American left. His name was Carlton Sanders.
Ingrum said he warned Sanders: “They’re coming after you, Carlton. You next.”
Sanders’ farm was in a nearby town called Lena. He had been in the business since 1992. Back then, he worked with a local family business called BC Rogers, which he said always treated him professionally. He used the chicken manure to fertilize his vegetable garden, and he took pride in his trees growing figs, pears and apricots. “I just had everything set,” Sanders said.
When Koch Foods bought BC Rogers in 2001, everything changed, Sanders said. Sanders’ performance was above average, according to the ranking system that the company used to pay farmers. But he felt singled out for disadvantages.
“I’ve never been treated like that by anybody,” Sanders, 63, said. “It was just like I was in hell with them.”
In 2014, Koch Foods wanted Sanders to make $105,000 worth of improvements, according to the USDA case file. Then Sanders borrowed an additional $93,000 to buy new curtains, insulation, cables and heaters. Suddenly, he owed a total of $295,000, but he made his payments on time, according to financial records reviewed by ProPublica.
The next year, Koch Foods informed its farmers of a new requirement for the ventilation in their chicken houses. Sanders went to his bank to see about another loan. The loan officer called the manager at Koch Foods and sent a follow-up email asking for “a listing of needed improvements that Koch Foods is requiring.”
The manager never responded directly to the banker. Instead, the company gave Sanders an “update list” with 23 items. Sanders gave the list to his banker, who understood it to be the company’s response to his inquiry. Sanders obtained work estimates for the 23 updates, amounting to $318,000, according to the case file.
The banker advised Sanders not to apply for another loan and to consider selling his farm instead. Meanwhile, Koch Foods stopped giving Sanders chickens to raise.
Sanders asked around and realized other farmers hadn’t gotten the same 23-item “update list.” So in December 2015, he filed a complaint with the USDA.
The complaint was assigned to a government attorney in Atlanta named Wayne Basford. Basford had also looked into Ingrum’s case, stretching back to 2010. Over the years, Basford had collected affidavits attesting to Koch employees’ calling black farmers “niggers” (the employees denied it), and he observed that the office staff was all white. He also noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was suing Koch Foods, alleging sexual harassment, retaliation and discrimination against Hispanic employees in Mississippi. (The company later paid $3.75 million to settle the lawsuit, though it did not admit wrongdoing.)
In February 2016, Basford notified Koch Foods that he was investigating a new complaint he’d received, without mentioning Sanders. Koch Foods’ lawyer responded by criticizing the condition of Sanders’ farm and, at the same time, denying that the company asks farmers to make “upgrades.”
As Basford inquired about the 23-item “update list” that only Sanders received, Koch Foods said these were optional. The list used the word “must” six times and never said the updates were voluntary.
“I hate to say it, but they just don’t like black people,” Sanders said. “There are no black people in the office — they don’t even want black people cleaning up after them.”
Basford asked to schedule a meeting with Koch Foods’ executives to present his findings. The company’s lawyer, Scott Pedigo, of the firm Baker Donelson in Jackson, Mississippi, called Basford to suggest meeting with local managers instead, according to emails included in the case file. Basford insisted on speaking with the top executives “due to the potential gravity of the situation.”
In July 2017, Basford and two colleagues from the USDA met in Birmingham, Alabama, with Koch Foods’ chief operating officer, Mark Kaminsky, along with two other executives and Pedigo. Grendys, Koch Foods’ billionaire owner, did not attend, but Basford sent Grendys a copy of his slides.
In the presentation, Basford said Koch Foods’ actions toward Sanders, combined with its treatment of Ingrum and the other black farmers, was “evidence of unjust discrimination.” Chicken companies are prohibited from engaging in “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive” business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The Obama administration tried to tighten enforcement of this law by proposing new regulations to spell out what those prohibited practices are. But the meat industry lobbied Congress to block the proposed rules by withholding funding from the USDA. When the Trump administration came in, it swiftly prevented the rules from taking effect.
So when Basford presented his findings to the Koch Foods executives in July 2017, he included all the evidence of discrimination, but he alleged a narrower violation: that Koch Foods failed to notify Sanders of why it stopped delivering chickens to his farm. In response, Pedigo argued that the notification nine months earlier about the new ventilation requirement was enough.
The notice requirement had been strengthened by the Obama administration, but Congress reversed the change in 2015. That made it harder for Basford’s case to stick.
Basford, who declined to comment for this article, submitted the case for the USDA’s lawyers to evaluate possible next steps, such as seeking a fine against Koch Foods. The agency hasn’t taken any action so far. A USDA spokesman said the investigation is “ongoing” and the agency is coordinating with the Department of Justice.
Meanwhile, Basford tried to mediate between Koch Foods and Sanders. In the months following Basford’s presentation in 2017, he pushed Koch Foods to resume delivering chickens to Sanders’ farm so that Sanders could save it from foreclosure.
Pedigo responded with a list of 10 repairs that Sanders would have to make first. Seven were among the 23 fixes that the company had previously insisted were optional.
Basford wanted Koch Foods to assure Sanders that if he spent the money to make the latest repairs, the company would start bringing him chickens again. The company wouldn’t agree.
In the end, all Koch Foods agreed to was “reviewing its policies and programs.” Pedigo told Basford the company has a “commitment to treating all of its independent contract growers equally and with dignity and respect.”
In response to questions from ProPublica about Ingrum and Sanders, Pedigo declined to comment on the specific allegations in Basford’s investigation. In a statement, he said, “Koch Foods applies its standards and expectations to all growers uniformly without regard to race or any other protected status and has never discriminated against any grower on such basis.”
Kaminsky, the Koch Foods COO who attended Basford’s presentation, last October became chairman of the National Chicken Council, the industry’s trade group.
Koch Foods and other top chicken companies — Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Sanderson Farms and Perdue Farms — are fighting multiple lawsuits from retailers, distributors and farmers accusing them of conspiring to fix prices. The companies have denied the allegations. In one of the cases, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division asked the judge on June 21 to freeze discovery in order to protect an ongoing criminal investigation.
The USDA is now doing fewer investigations like Basford’s. His office finished 1,873 investigations in 2017, the most recent data available, down from 2,588 in 2012. Penalties for violating the Packers and Stockyards Act dropped from $3.2 million in 2013 to as little as $243,850 in 2018, according to preliminary case data on the USDA’s website.
The enforcement office, known as the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, was dissolved as part of a department-wide reorganization. The USDA shifted responsibility for enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act into another division whose primary purpose is helping companies boost sales. The staff in the Packers and Stockyards Division has decreased to 137 from 166 in 2010.
Sanders found himself in a downward spiral after the dispute with Koch Foods. He had a stroke and a heart attack. The bank foreclosed on his farm and he filed for bankruptcy. His wife left him. These days, he’s living on food stamps plus whatever he gets from hunting and fishing.
“I’ve been about as dead as somebody can go without being dead,” he said. “I’m trying to hold my head up, that’s all I can do.”
On Sundays, Sanders passes by his old farm on his way to church. The farm is just sitting there, still up for sale, lying fallow. Sometimes, he takes a long way around to avoid seeing it.
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica.
The immense powers of prosecutors throughout the US mean that the scales are tipped against defendants — and justice itself, says a legal expert
By Jessica Brown
Every country with a functioning criminal justice system depends on prosecutors, the attorneys who charge defendants with crimes and build the case to convict. But the ones in the US are a breed apart. They are more than agents of the court: Top prosecutors in every US county typically have to run for the office, making them elected officials as well. No other nation in the world elects its prosecutors, and few give them so much power.
Prosecutors in the US have broad discretion over how and when to press their cases, which means they often control the fates of defendants, says Stanford Law School professor David Alan Sklansky. In a 2018 paper published in the Annual Review of Criminology, Sklansky notes that prosecutors are increasingly blamed for the problems that plague US criminal justice — its excessive severity, its lopsided targeting of racial minorities and its propensity for error. Part of the difficulty, he suggests, is the largely unchecked power of prosecutors.
Black men also receive federal prison sentences that are on average almost 20 percent longer than those of white men who commit the same crime. When prosecutors offer a plea deal, white defendants are 25 percent more likely than black defendants to have their most serious initial charge dropped or reduced to a less severe charge. And there are a disturbing number of cases in which prosecutorial misconduct has led to convictions that later are overturned on appeal. In one famous case from 1987, prosecutors removed all four potential black members from a jury that later convicted a black man named Timothy Foster of murder. The prosecutors denied that they were motivated by race during jury selection. Years later, Foster’s lawyers obtained prosecutors’ notes and the Supreme Court declared, by a vote of 7-1, that the jury selection in his trial was unconstitutional.
In another case, Anthony Graves, a 26-year-old black man in Texas, was wrongfully convicted in 1994 of murdering a family of six. He ended up spending 18 years behind bars, including 12 years on death row. The real murderer, Robert Carter, eventually confessed that he had acted alone, and investigations showed that the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, withheld testimony that would have cleared Graves.
A growing chorus of legal scholars and reform-minded prosecutors has called for a new approach that would restore fairness and justice to the prosecutorial process. But Sklansky says reform won’t come easy. Any meaningful change must start with disentangling prosecutors from conflicting roles that straddle the legal and political systems. In other words, he says, we must be clearer about what we want from prosecutors.
Sklansky spoke with Knowable about the rise of prosecutors and the need for reforms to restore fairness and justice. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the biggest problem with prosecutors in the US?
It’s hard to say. There are actually several different problems with US prosecutors. One is that they have so much power to coerce guilty pleas, another is that they have almost unbridled discretion over how to use that power. A third is that prosecutors are often overzealous and break the rules, and a fourth is that they are sometime unimaginative about how to use their discretion more constructively.
But I think the most fundamental problem may be that we have complicated and often contradictory expectations for prosecutors. We want them to be impartial but also to be forceful advocates, to follow the law but also to exercise mercy, and to work closely with the police but also to stand apart from them.
The conflicting expectations for prosecutors, and the ambiguity regarding their role, can make it difficult to regulate them, and difficult for prosecutors themselves to know what it means to do their job well.
Are prosecutors really more powerful than judges?
In many cases, yes. That’s partly due to a surge in statutes calling for mandatory minimum sentences for a wide range of crimes. Because judges have little ability to lower the sentences called for in these statutes, often the only way for defendants to avoid these penalties is to strike a deal with prosecutors — or take their chances at trial. Because prosecutors can threaten such draconian sentences, they have tremendous power to coerce guilty pleas.
Do current laws make it difficult for prosecutors to achieve fair verdicts and sentences?
I wouldn’t say that the laws make it hard for prosecutors to achieve fair results. But they do make it complicated. Some laws — especially many of the laws calling for harsh mandatory sentences — can be unjust when applied to particular cases. So doing justice will often mean being judicious about when these laws should be invoked.
And then there are procedural rules that require prosecutors to take off their advocate’s hat and be fair and impartial. Prosecutors are often called on to decide, for example, when evidence that could be helpful to the defense needs to be disclosed. That’s like asking basketball players to call their own fouls.
We won’t be able to eliminate the ambiguity of the prosecutor’s role, and we should continue to pressure prosecutors to be impartial. But we need to be relatively realistic about how well we can expect them to navigate these conflicting expectations.
Why don’t prosecutors use their powers more fairly?
Again, it’s important to stress that many prosecutors work hard to be impartial, and many do an admirable job of exercising their powers in a balanced, thoughtful way. But many prosecutors’ offices have a culture of competitiveness, and courtroom victories are the primary measure of their success. Prosecutors are attracted to the job partly because of the excitement of legal combat. Too often, convictions and long sentences get celebrated, even if they are undeserved.
It’s hard to shift prosecutors’ priorities from victory to justice. Prosecutors don’t get their names in the newspaper because they worked out a reasonable compromise. “So-and-so convicted on all counts” is an easy headline to write.
If prosecutors want to achieve true justice for defendants, they need to ask themselves some tough questions that go beyond convictions and acquittals — questions that can be very difficult to answer. Have they helped to resolve cases in ways that are equitable and humane? Have they helped move the community forward?
Why do we keep learning about cases where prosecutors have failed to disclose evidence that would help the defense?
Prosecutors have vastly more investigative resources at their disposal than defense attorneys, so they often have more access to information and evidence. Prosecutors are required to share evidence with the defense only if it could help the defendant in a significant way. But because they’re so motivated to win, it can be very hard for prosecutors to objectively decide whether the evidence they’ve uncovered is worth sharing. They have an incentive to convince themselves it isn’t.
Is there a lack of diversity among prosecutors, and does that contribute to unfair and discriminatory practices?
Prosecutors’ offices generally don’t disclose statistics on racial and gender demographics, so we don’t know much about prosecutor diversity. A few years ago, some of my students at Stanford Law School carried out research on the race and gender of prosecutors in California. As far as I know, this was the first time that comprehensive statistics of this kind were compiled for prosecutors in any state. And what the students found was that prosecutors in California are far whiter than the state as a whole.
That matters. There’s very good reason to believe that when prosecutors don’t reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve, it skews their decision-making. Diversity reduces systemic bias and makes it easier for prosecutors to take into account the perspectives of all parts of the community.
Racial diversity is never a panacea. Just as police departments aren’t magically transformed by employing more minority officers, we can’t fix prosecutors’ offices simply be electing or hiring people from different backgrounds. But when prosecutor offices are as diverse as the communities they serve, they bring different skills and perspectives and give fairer consideration to all the factors that should go into prosecutorial decision-making.
Other than increasing diversity, how else could the system be improved?
We need safeguards against prosecutorial power. Strengthening the resources of defense attorneys would be an important step. The vast majority of criminal defendants in the US are represented by appointed counsel, because they’re too poor to hire their own lawyers, and we’ve known for decades that we don’t pay enough to appointed defense attorneys or employ enough of them; they’re overworked and under-resourced. We need to invest more in defense if we want the system to operate properly.
Legislatures can help by rolling back mandatory sentences and by strengthening and clarifying the rules requiring prosecutors to share evidence with defense counsel.
More judicial oversight could also make a big difference. Judges could reclaim some of their power by tightening the rules that require prosecutors to share evidence with the defense. They could force prosecutors to explain and justify their charging decisions and their plea bargaining offers in court. In many courts, judges have the authority to dismiss cases in the interest of justice, such as when prosecutors pursue draconian sentences.
But in order for any of that happen, there would need to be something of a change of judicial mindset; judges would need to believe that prosecutors should be held more accountable, and to believe that it’s part of the business of the judiciary to make that happen.
Finally, there is much that prosecutors themselves can do — and in many places, are doing — to make the system fairer, less discriminatory and less damaging. They don’t need to wait for legislation mandating more disclosure of evidence; they can start doing that on their own. They can stop using unreasonably long mandatory minimum sentences to coerce guilty pleas. And they can work to change the cultures of their offices, so that fair outcomes are celebrated and not just courtroom victories.
Is reform on the horizon?
To some extent, yes. We’re in an unusual moment now because there is great attention to reforming prosecutors’ offices through the ballot box. Criminal justice crusaders have devoted more attention to elections over the last decade. As a result, we have a growing number of head prosecutors who’ve won elections based on a platform of pulling back on mass incarceration and seeking a more balanced approach to criminal justice. For the most part, though, this wave of reform isn’t doing anything to reduce the power of prosecutors’ offices.
How significant is the criminal justice reform bill that passed at the federal level in 2018?
It’s a step in the right direction, although it affects only federal prosecutors. The law modestly cuts back on mandatory minimum sentences and allows federal judges to hand down sentences lower than the statutory minimums without any motion from the prosecutor. That means that federal prosecutors, in some cases, won’t have quite as heavy a hammer to use in pressuring defendants to plead guilty. The new law is important symbolically, even for state prosecutors. It’s a signal of the growing consensus in the US that criminal justice has veered too far in the direction of severity, and that tougher isn’t always better.
What if wider reform doesn’t happen?
If there’s no reform, we’ll likely continue to face the dire problems of the criminal justice system: mass incarceration, excessively long sentences, wrongful convictions and racial bias. Prosecutors have helped to create all of these problems, and they have a critical role in solving them.
Major Democratic presidential candidates are talking about considering or paying reparations to the descendants of African Americans who were enslaved. Many of the candidates may simply be engaging in political pandering. Most candidates simply express support for a discussion rather than actual support for reparations. I haven't heard any candidate actually talk about what reparations might look like.
The definition of reparation is making amends by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. The spilling of blood during the Civil War and nearly 10 years of Radical Reconstruction could have been a good start if the federal government had not abandoned efforts to protect former slaves.
When the Declaration of Independence declared "that all men are created equal" in 1776, slaves were 20 percent of the population. Slavery existed in the former colonies and the United States for nearly 250 years, Jim Crow laws for another 90 years. Institutionalized and government-sanctioned discrimination including laws that led to unequal and substandard education, militaristic policing, unjust courts, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression still exist.
My great-grandmother was a slave, my father said how ashamed she was whenever slavery was mentioned. There were no amends made to her or any other slave for their suffering. Her situation directly affected my grandfather, which directly affected my father, which directly affected me, which directly affects my children.
During slavery men, women and children were raped by their straight, gay or pedophile owners. Medical schools used slaves for medical experiments and practiced surgical procedures on slaves. Families were torn apart. People were tortured, maimed, and killed. The worst atrocities imaginable today were legal because people were reduced to mere property.
After the abolition of slavery; convict leasing, peonage, and Jim Crow kept blacks in slave-like conditions. Black Americans lived in terror because the government refused to offer any meaningful protection from angry or jealous white men. Lynchings and other racially motivated killings were common and unpunished. Prosperous Black neighborhoods such as Tulsa, OK, and Rosewood, FL were looted, burned, bombed and land theft was common.
The government engineered a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. Social Security was originally designed to prevent 80% of the black population from participating. Federal housing programs that helped create the white middle class, implemented a redlining system which prevented blacks from benefiting.
Government-sponsored experiments such as Tuskegee and Pruitt Igoe have been revealed. Blacks originally were systematically excluded from U.S. farm bills, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, protection of the right of workers to join labor unions and the G.I. Bill. Law enforcement sabotaged the Civil Rights Movement, In 1972 and 1996 the CIA was linked to drug traffic in black neighborhoods.
The government through legislation, policy, and court decisions actively participated in black oppression. Government inaction encouraged treachery and terrorism so vast it was easy to "keep negroes in their place" effectively eliminating the creation of black opportunity and wealth.
Slave Owner Reparations
In 1833, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said at the National Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia: “If compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.” Garrison may have referenced the 1833 "Slavery Abolition Act" when more than 46,000 British slave owners were compensated for freed slaves.
The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which prohibited slavery in the District, was signed into law on April 16, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln, forcing over 900 slaveholders to free their slaves.
The government paid to slave owners that were loyal to the Union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed. Slaveowners received payment, slaves received nothing.
When you purchase or inherit real estate and other property, you also assume or inherit the debt; mortgages, taxes, and liens attached to the property. For those who directly experienced slavery and Jim Crow who since died, a debt is owed to their estates; and their descendants are the beneficiaries. The government sanctioned slavery; individuals, churches, corporations, universities, and other institutions actively participated. Georgetown University exists today because of slavery.
The partial list of current corporations and institutions that benefited from slavery include:
AIG, Aetna, Bank of America, Brooks Brothers, Brown Brothers Harriman, Brown Unversity, Columbia, CSX, Fleet, Gannet, Georgetown, Havard, JP Morgan Chase, New York Life, Norfolk Southern, Princeton, Tiffany, University of Virginia, Wells Fargo, Yale, and the list goes one.
All White people passively benefited from the wealth and opportunity created by slavery and Jim Crow. White immigrants decreased the overall percentage of black people and diluted the effectiveness of the black vote. Immigrants benefited from opportunities in a country made prosperous off the backs of the enslaved and directly from professions and job denied to blacks.
The political scientist Thomas Craemer calculated the hours worked by enslaved black workers between 1776 and the official end of slavery. He estimates this uncompensated labor totaled between $5.9 and $14.2 trillion in current dollars.
What reparations could look like?
During a discussion with one of my closest friends in response to his skepticism about any workable reparation solutions, I mentioned what I thought to be some simple ways to identify who should benefit and how to implement.
Reparations should be a combination of social, institutional, and economic solutions that are specific to African American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS). No other group of people was legally brought to the United States by force. Congress should exempt reparations from discrimination or racial exclusion statutes or regulations since they are in effect debts owed and not benefits. However, some solutions, especially those related to a fairer criminal justice system, will, directly and indirectly, benefit other groups. White companies supplying building supplies and other durable goods will also directly benefit.
Although others, most notably Native Americans, perhaps are owed reparations, this discussion is limited to the debt owed to the Black ADOS. Other so-called solutions were never exclusive to Blacks.
Equal opportunity solutions may have been well-intentioned, but in reality, were distorted myths. Affirmative Action, for example, benefited white women more than any other group. There was never any real equal opportunity for black people. If there are vast differences in education, access to credit, transportation, housing, medical care and just about everything else, how is anything equal?
Some concepts are easier to construct and implement; those should be worked on first and others more complex solutions later. Solutions should also have incentives to maximize positive impact on the community.
United Nations Recommends Reparations
At the invitation of the U.S. Government, a group of experts from the United Nations visited the country in 2016 to study and make a recommendation concerning people of African Descent.
The Group urged in their report that the United States consider seriously applying a Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations, which includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation. The following statements were included within the report:
Despite these legal and constitutional developments (13th, 14th & 15 amendments), the prevalence of “Jim Crow” laws — laws at the state and local levels that enforced racial segregation and persecution, primarily in the southern states — perpetuated political disenfranchisement, social and economic exploitation, violence and the overall subjugation of people of African descent until the 1960s. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the United States must address. Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable.
Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, a systemic ideology of racism ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to impact negatively on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today.
The Working Group is deeply concerned at the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials, committed with impunity against people of African descent in the United States.
The Working Group is deeply concerned about the low number of cases where police officers have been held accountable for these crimes, despite the evidence.
Killings of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pervasive racial bias in the justice system.
The Working Group was informed that the “War on Drugs” had had a devastating impact on African Americans and that mass incarceration was considered a system of racial control that operated in a similar way to how Jim Crow laws once operated.
The complex organizational structure of the legal system, with the independence of federal, state and county jurisdictions, and the lack of direct applicability of international human rights law and policies, create gaps that impact deeply on the human rights of African Americans.
There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization, and colonialism were crimes against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
Who should be Eligible for Reparations?
In the United States, any person known to have African ancestry was considered Black. This was often called the "one drop rule" and some courts referred to it as the "traceable amount rule". As historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham stated in regard to race, "most people believe that they know it when they see it but arrive at nothing short of confusion when pressed to define it."
In 1860, ninety percent of the four million Black people in the U.S. were slaves. Of the ten percent of free Blacks, its safe to assume that virtually all of them were either former slaves or descendants. Even descendants of the handful of black indentured servants such as Anthony Johnson married slaves or former slaves resulting in every black person at that time having a slave in their ancestry. Most of the nation’s 40 million U.S.-born blacks trace their roots to this population.
Significant voluntary Black immigration to the U.S. did not begin until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Refugee Act of 1980 and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 when immigration policy changed restrictions on foreign-born blacks. Black people that can trace their ancestry to 1960 should be assumed to be ADOS. For example, my 20-year-old son can prove thru birth records that I was born in 1965 and since my parents were born in the 1920s and 1930s; he satisfies the 1960 rule.
Having Black skin creates barriers which even White people understand because most white people would not want to be treated the way Black people are. Some Black ADOS people with fair skin passed as white and thereby obtained some degree of white privilege. However, even they had to endure being separated from their family, listening to derogatory comments, denying who they were and living in fear of being caught. White privilege is misunderstood, it simply means that white people enjoy the benefit of being treated as normal.
Any Black person who is ADOS should be able to benefit from reparations. Regardless of personal achievement or those made by their ancestors; harm whether physically, emotionally, socially or financially was endured. However, the initial concentration of corrective solutions should be aimed at those who are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Those below the poverty line should be among the first to benefit.
Nothing can ever be sufficient restitution for the spiritual, mental, cultural and physical damages inflicted by slavery, Jim Crow and racism. However, something must be done to repair the damage.
The first step should be an official government apology for slavery and its aftermath that acknowledges that harm was done not only to slaves but to their descendants. However, apologies are meaningless without change.
The video below shows the emotional response when a descendant of a former slave owner apologizes to descendants former slaves.
A reparations commission comprising a super majority of ADOS (2/3) should be created to study slavery, the aftermath, the value of uncompensated labor, lost opportunity and pain and suffering. The people who were victims should have the most say in determining what they suffered.
For nearly 250 years Africans and their descendants were denied recognition as members of the human family and were classified in law as non-human, chattel, property, and real estate. This history has inflicted massive psychological trauma upon African descendant populations. As Dr. Joy de Gruy Leary argues, African-Americans are suffering from post-traumatic slave syndrome. Only a reparatory justice approach to truth and educational exposure can begin the process of healing and repair. Part of the dehumanizing process of making a slave was to make Africans descendants hate themselves. Generations of psychological damaged need to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Broadcasting is the most influential industry in the United States. African-Americans were regularly given stereotypic roles that depicted them as lazy, ignorant, and generally derogatory by mass media. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) excluded Black people from ownership of the airways by denying licensing. When the U.S. government first started giving away free licenses in the 1930s, they were distributed exclusively to white, male owners. As technology developed from radio to television and then cable, the same, white-owned companies continued to lead the pack because they could adapt to the new technology fastest. As a result, horrible negative images of black people were transmitted all around the world. As a group, we had no means to counter these images or broadcast information to a national audience. Reparations should include free broadcast licenses. A corporation comprised of shareholders restricted to black churches, black organizations, black entertainers and individual black people should be formed to accept broadcast licenses from the FCC.
Education or should I say miseducation was used as a weapon against Black people during and after slavery. Because knowledge is power, slaves were denied the right to read or write. The slavemaster was able to easily deceive slaves with lies and half-truths. One of the most glaring examples was the "slave bible". A normal "King James" version has 1189 chapters, but the slave bible only contained 232 chapters.
Ironically, even the bible states that reparations for slavery should be provided:
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— deuteronomy 15: 12–15
After slavery, white-controlled, often racist school boards, rather than slave masters directed miseducation of black people. The 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs The Board of Education, made it clear that black schools were so inferior that the quality of education was unconstitutional. Today, 65 years after Brown, the situation is even worse. The cure was worse than the disease. Busing was the primary solution. White schools received even more funding to accommodate black students. Those funds were used to upgrade facilities and programs, while black schools suffered and closed. Many of the most stable and brightest black students were removed along with their positive influence and impact. Some of the best teachers also left. When bussing programs were eliminated, black students were trapped in schools suffering from decades of decline.
Public schools in the U.S. should teach the truth about the horrors of slavery and its aftermath instead of the sanitized whitewashed version usually taught. For example, "The Great Migration" is the general term used to describe how 6 million black people moved north from the south. The whitewashed narrative states better job opportunity was the motivation. In reality, those "migrants" were refugees fleeing terrorism, persecution, violence and were seeking asylum only to find a different form of oppression in the north.
Public school funding should not be based on property taxes. Schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, because of lower property taxes, would remain substandard. These schools provide limited electives, advanced courses, are often in disrepair, have limited supplies, outdated textbooks or may not have books at all. Enrichment and extracurricular programs that help motivate and keep students interested in attending a school such as art, band, choir, drama, sports, student government, debate, robotics, and others won't exist or will be eliminated due to lack of funding.
Free college tuition including books, room and board should be made available to all low-income ADOS students. A small monthly stipend to cover necessary costs such as toiletries, laundry, and personal care items could also be included.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are in the best position to help black students and should receive reparation grants for operating expenses, to improve, modernize and expand their programs and facilities. The improvements will allow HBCUs to attract additional instructors and students. Program expansion should include fields critically needed within the black communities and others where Blacks are underrepresented, for example:
Agricultural programs: that include some sort of land, equipment and operating grant to help create a new generation of black farmers to decrease urban food desserts. Government discrimination caused many Black farmers to lose their farms.
Business: As Black people were increasingly segregated and cut off from the larger white community, black entrepreneurs established flourishing businesses that catered to black customers. The period between 1900 and 1930 has been called the "golden age of black business". Due to jealousy, envy or greed, white Americans including city officials and members of law enforcement destroyed prosperous black businesses and entire communities. Punitive zoning laws, business license denials, and various other tactics were used to prevent black people from opening and operating a business. Grants for entrepreneurial training and business funding should be part of reparations.
Trade education programs: the major trades which include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, heating & cooling and others systematically excluded black people from training and jobs. Quoting a New York Times article, "The building of houses, offices and factories, of bridges and dams and highways, is still largely white man's work in America." Reparation grants should include trade education. Improvement grants to black homeowners in neighborhoods suffering from decades of neglect should be issued. Grants should be restricted to employ the students and graduates of those program and qualified black-owned businesses.
Teacher programs: We need more Black teachers in public schools. Cultural differences and lack of understanding cause white teachers to discipline excessively contributing to the school to prison pipeline. America’s public school population has been majority children of color since 2014. 50.4 million kids were in public schools; in the fall of 2016; 24.6 million (49%) were white and 25.9 million (51%) were kids of color. Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races. About 80 percent of all public school teachers are White, 9 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, and 2 percent were Asian” during the 2015-16 school year. Certification rules and tests and racial bias in hiring are keeping would-be teachers of color out of America’s classrooms. Reparation incentives for black teachers and modifications to certification and hiring processes are needed.
Doctors. nurses and other medical professions: As a child, I vividly remember a large number of black nurses and doctors in St. Louis area hospitals. I'm certain this was due to Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which trained the largest number of black doctors and nurses in the world. Now, Forty years after the hospital's closing, black doctors and nurses are rare finds in hospitals; and when they are found they are often foreign-born.
Lawyers: Howard University's Law School under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston, contributed greatly to the most important civil right legal victories. While nearly 40 percent of incarcerated prisoners are African-American, only 4.8 percent of lawyers are African-American, 88 percent of lawyers are white. The American Bar Association (ABA) was formed in 1878, one year after the reconstruction ended. Prior to the ABA, most practicing lawyers never attended law school. The ABA caused blacks to be excluded from the legal profession by colluding with state governments and courts making it more difficult to become a lawyer. Studies show that white attorneys might have biases that result in less favorable outcomes for their black clients; the same holds true for prosecutors and judges.
Ending mandatory prison sentences and mass incarceration practices which disproportionally affect people of color. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarceration costs an average of more than $31,000 per inmate, per year. There are nearly 2.2 million incarcerated adults, and more than 4.5 million under probation or parole supervision, which cost nearly $4,400 after the sentence is completed. The country would save $3.1 billion per year for every 100,000 people we prevent from being incarcerated and an additional $440 million in probation supervision cost.
Allow felons to vote after finishing their sentences. Once a person has completed their prison sentence, their debt to society at least, in theory, is supposed to be paid. An estimated 6.1 million people in the United States (2.5% of the nation's voting age population, excluding DC) could not vote due to a felony conviction; 7.44% of African Americans in the United States could not vote due to a felony conviction in 2016.
Some of the funds saved by incarcerating fewer people could go towards reparations programs. It's ultimately more beneficial for society to pay for trade school or college than prison.
The federal government encouraged racial housing discrimination by redlining areas containing African-Americans and refusing to guarantee loans in those redlined zones. This lack of access to capital affected the ability of black people to buy, rent or maintain their homes. Redlining triggered white flight, caused neighborhoods to declined, discouraged business and investment in entire communities. Zero or low-interest loans should be made available as part of reparations to purchase homes.
Story of Contract Buyers
Following World War II, Chicago’s South Side had become increasingly overcrowded as African Americans moved from the South in the second wave of the Great Migration. Unable to attain decent and sanitary housing in white neighborhoods because of racially restrictive real estate covenants and mortgage redlining by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), African Americans were confined to the South Side ghetto.
In the 1950s-60s, real estate speculators exploited white homeowners’ fears on the West Side of plummeting real estate values because of neighborhoods that had ethnic change. Realtors went door-to-door to persuade white homeowners to sell because blacks were moving into the neighborhood. In neighborhoods they wished to exploit, “panic-peddling” speculators hired black men to drive beat-up cars with the music blaring and paid black women to push their babies in strollers. Speculators made enormous profits by convincing whites to sell their homes at well-below market value and then reselling to blacks at much higher than market value. Black homebuyers were subject to a “race tax,” as a property would typically be bought from a white homeowner for $10,000 and resold a week later to a black family for $25,000. This contributed to the neighborhood’s population changing from 87% white in 1950 to 91% black in 1960. Similar scenarios occurred in other cities across the county. The video below explains how victims in Chicago organized and fought back.
Black people have been targets of predatory lending and their wealth stripped away because many were forced to pay higher interest rates even with good credit. Even the bankruptcy process became predatory for African-Americas. Direct payments could be made to eliminate or reduce debt.
Many African-Americans have prospered despite systemic racism and racialized barriers placed in their way. Maybe they had to be twice as good to get half as much as their white contemporaries. Regardless, they and their ancestor were wronged. The difference is that some successful black people and their children may have already obtained degrees, houses and the other trappings of success. Direct payments to pay off student loans, mortgage or other debt may be a more practical solution. However, this sort of direct payment might disqualify them from participating in other reparation programs.
Slavery Was A Long Time Ago
Many white people, live on or possess land passed down from generations ago, celebrate the 4th of July, re-enact Civil War battles, scream about monuments and confederate flags being taken down, but tell us to forget slavery because no one alive today was a slave or slave-owner.
African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks were enslaved nearly 250 years but have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.
"It's foolish to let your oppressor tell you that you should forget about the oppression that they inflicted upon you".
When my uncle, Dick Gregory, walked away from millions of dollars in bookings, to actively participate in the civil rights movement, there were family members who had good jobs that didn't understand what the fuss was all about.
Blacks among W.E.B. Dubose's so-called "talented tenth" who are among the best educated and best paid in the African-American community may not believe reparations are necessary, because they themselves are doing well. However, the irony is that even the "talented tenth" would be in better shape if the barriers of racism hadn't prevented even greater success than achieved.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson realized that the more educated black people became, the more they became indoctrinated into the thinking and ways of the white oppressor. "The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worth while, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race." The "Black Card" video below, featuring Candace Owens, demonstrates Dr. Woodson's premise.
In the above video, Ms. Owens acknowledges her grandfather, Robert Owens, endured Jim Crow, the KKK, was forced to work at the age of five on a tobacco plantation, cleaned homes and office buildings for a living eventually owning his own cleaning company. Like many African-American, Robert Owens overcame extreme oppressive conditions, imagine how his life might have been better had he not experienced serious racism including the KKK shooting up his family's home as a child.
Black median household income of $40,232 is about two thirds that of other households. The median wealth of white household is $134,230 vs $11,030 for black households. These figures are direct results of racial oppression and the capacity to create and pass along generational wealth.
Racism created a number of divisions within the Black community, most notably light vs dark skinned, straight hair vs kinky hair, and house vs field slave. The Willie Lynch Letter best illustrates this phenomenon.
Meritorious manumission was a method of freeing or rewarding slaves for "good deeds" such as saving the life of a white person, creating an invention a slave master could profit from, or “snitching” on a slave planning to run away or organize a revolt. Some black people are still willing to sell out their community for financial gain.
Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy.
FDR once said, "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." After World War 2, the Marshall Plan rebuilt parts of Europe including Germany, the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP) revived Japan's economy, and the U.S. helped create Isreal, which became the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. As a country, we know how to stabilize and build economies. So one can assume that the present state of Black America was planned; simply by virtue that no serious efforts were made to stabilize let alone rebuilt economies within the black community. While the U.S. was providing former enemies with economic aid, black veterans who fought those enemies were denied G.I. and other benefits.
Although a vast debt is owed, I don't really expect any meaningful reparations to be paid. The descendants of slave owners and others who benefited economically have no incentive to pay.
Power is not given, it must be taken. How can you expect powerful people to give you the education, training, and resources to take their power away from them?
African descendants of slaves have no means to force the payment of the debt. Usually, a creditor can take a debtor to court, obtain a judgment which is backed by the force of law. Even if reparations were provided, the voluntary payments would be a tiny fraction of the debt owed and couldn't cause any meaningful change.
Slavery existed and racism exists because it is profitable! Being a slum lord is profitable, marketing sub-prime and payday loans is profitable, hiring desperate workers at low wages is profitable and having a population of 45 million black consumers who do not manufacture anything is profitable.
Even if reparations were paid, how long would it take for that money to end right back into the hands of white businesses? We don't manufacture building supplies, houses, furniture, appliances, electronics or even clothes. Everything we need to survive including food, water, electricity, gas, and other basics are supplied by others.
Black churches, Kingdom Halls, Mosques, organizations, and businesses should create a commission and find workable solutions to at least some of the damage caused by centuries of racial oppression. Malcolm X in his "Ballot or the Bullet" speech recommended forgetting religious differences to concentrate on fighting a common enemy and working towards Black Nationalism to control the politics and economy in our own community.
The commission would need to partner to build distribution networks for black businesses and merchandise. There are probably congregation members who provide services or own businesses that their fellow members know nothing about. Imagine if black churches used some of their space to sell products such as soft drinks, baked goods, and other black manufactured goods.
Black Convention Venue
My son, who is a youth minister at his church, for years has attended church conventions in various cities where tens of millions of dollars are spent by attendees. For example, in 2010, the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education's 55,000 attendees spent an estimated $76 million in Detroit. Right here in St. Louis where I live, between 2010 and 2016, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) through it's Holy Convocation injected more than $125 million into the St. Louis economy. Imagine if that money was spent within the black community instead of white-owned hotels, restaurants, and venues.
Black churches, professional organizations, and non-profit organizations could contribute funds for a non-profit corporation to create venues to accommodate member churches and organizations' large meetings and conventions. Black churches alone take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year. This organization could reach out to the African Union and others in the African Diaspora to build alliances, investors and partners.
If the organizational structure ends up being a standard corporation, shares can be made available to congregation and organization members, with members encouraged to support and recommend the venues for vacations and other travel. Discounts should be offered to members of participating organizations.
To start, the most popular convention destinations should be researched and a single start city selected, preferably one with a large black population to help sustain the venues during the initial and growth stages. Land in predominantly black neighborhoods should be selected for development. Member organizations would need to commit to holding conventions and meetings in the start city for a number of years. A black transportation system, similar to Uber, could be organized with a network of black restaurants, entertainment, retailers and other places of interests as target destinations. After the initial start city becomes successful, a secondary city could be selected and the process repeated until about five or six of the most popular destination cities have been developed. African American travelers contributed about $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy in 2018. Imagine capturing just ten percent of that market.
This suggestion needs to be fine-tuned, would require sacrifice and might require member organizations to forgo conventions for a period of time. However, the long term benefits to the organizations and the black community would be monumental.
Even if a national coalition of organizations is not currently feasible, certainly local coalitions could be built to find workable local solutions for community issues. The primary issues in our communities are economic. Until workable solutions are presented to help people, especially our youth get out of poverty, desperate people will continue to find violent solutions to their problems and no catchphrase or slogan will stop them.
I realized some time ago that black people have the greatest need for timely access to quality information, however, those with the information, usually will not share it with others. I've actually seen situations where one non-profit organization would not share with needy clients helpful information about other non-profit organizations. It is my sincere hope that my ideas will spark someone into action to help others.
Although I'm not an attorney, I created this site to distribute free legal information to help those with little or no money to hire an attorney. Multiple systems are rigged against all of us. "United we stand, divided we fall"; let us stand so we can help those who have fallen.
I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be scared of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies".
A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.
Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.
The actual IHOP video can be viewed near the bottom of the this page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.
Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.
These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.
Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.
Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way to hold Mc Donalds, IHOP or others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations.
Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action.
Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.
In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”
Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.
During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority. In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmlandand 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.
In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of Apartheid to one of majority rule and Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission(TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.
American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States.
The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching, picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.
Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future.
About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.
The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.
By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made.
Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.”
The video of the arrest is below.
Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies.
Terrorism and white nationalism were among the pillars this country was founded upon. The so-called founding fathers were terrorist and traitors. The 56 signers of "The Declaration of Independence" were all British subjects and 41 were slave owners. They did not agree with certain provisions of the law and decided to commit treason against Great Britain by declaring independence.
While declaring that all men were created equal and arguing for their inalienable right to freedom, they denied freedom to others. Even after a number of free and enslaved black men fought for what would become the United States, when the Constitution was written in 1787, slavery was allowed to continue; in fact Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 of the Constitution prohibited Congress from placing any bans on slavery for 20 years, until the year 1808.
Ironically, when 11 southern states seceded in 1860-61 and formed the Confederate States of American, the Union did not recognize those state's independence from the United States. Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia soldiers were consider patriots during the Revolutionary War, but were considered rebels and traitors during the Civil War. After Reconstruction ended, the Southern States were allow to terrorize former slaves and influence U.S.. policy in ways that still have a negative impact on the descendants of slaves today.
After 250 years of slavery, nearly a 100 years of state sanctioned discrimination and more than 50 years of failed reform a legacy of racism, oppression and aggression still exists for descendants of slaves, which has become one of the most successful exports from the United States. Nazi German modeled their racism after America's and now places as far away as New Zealand have followed the United State's latest examples of racism and violence.
The “alt-right” – an umbrella term describing modern online white supremacist movement – uses the same language. And it has expanded this 20th-century xenophobic worldview to portray refugees, Muslims and progressives as a threat, too.
“The hatred that led to violence in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville is finding new adherents around the world,” Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil liberties watchdog, told USA Today after the New Zealand attack.
“Indeed, it appears that this attack was not just focused on New Zealand; it was intended to have a global impact.”
Rising racist violence
We know the alleged New Zealand mosque shooter’s hatred of Muslims was inspired by American white nationalism – he said so on Twitter.
His online “manifesto” includes references to cultural conflicts that the author believed would eventually lead the United States to separate along ethnic, political and racial lines.
The years 2015, 2016 and 2018 were the United States’ deadliest years for extremist violence since 1970, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
All perpetrators of deadly extremist violence in the U.S. in 2018 had links to white nationalist groups. That made 2018 “a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders,” the Anti-Defamation League says.
Nationalist terror is a danger to the domestic security of the United States and, evidence shows, a global terror threat that endangers the very nature of global democratic society.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation with added introductory comments.
By Kathy Roberts Forde, Associate Professor, Journalism Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst
The press is an essential guardrail of democracy. As The Washington Post tells its readers, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
But the press has not always been a champion of democracy.
In the late 19th century, Henry W. Grady, one of the South’s most prominent editors, worked closely with powerful political and business interests to build a white supremacist political economy and social order across Georgia – and the entire South – that lasted well into the 20th century. One of his primary tools was his newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution – which merged with The Atlanta Journal in 2001 to become The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
My research, a collaboration with Ethan Bakuli and Natalie DiDomenico, undergraduate research partners in the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uncovers this history.
The ‘New South’ and racial terror
Grady enraptured white Americans with his speeches and columns about the “New South,” a narrative meant to attract Northern investment in the South’s emerging industrial economy.
“The relations of the Southern people with the negro are close and cordial,” Grady proclaimed in the 1886 New York speech that made him famous.
It was a brazen lie. Many white Americans believed it, or pretended they did, but black editors, journalists and leaders challenged it at every turn.
Grady promoted the New South’s reconciliation with the North, its industrial development and the availability of cheap Southern labor. What’s more, he insisted the “race problem” must be left to the South to resolve.
He meant, of course, the white South.
T. Thomas Fortune, a militant black newspaper editor in New York, would have none of it.
“Mr. Grady appeals to the North to leave the race question to ‘us’ and ‘we’ will settle it,” he wrote. “So we will; but the we Mr. Grady had ‘in his mind’s eye’ will not be permitted to settle it alone. Not by any means, Mr. Grady. Not only the White we, but the Colored we as well, will demand a share in that settlement.”
Grady didn’t listen. Instead, he explained to adoring white crowds why the South was committed to one-party rule: to deprive black men of electoral power.
In 1889, the year he died unexpectedly at 39, Grady told a crowd at the Texas State Fair, “The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards – because the white race is the superior race.”
The pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells understood his meaning. In “Southern Horrors,” a pamphlet that documented lynching and the all-too-frequent collaboration of the white Southern press, Wells drew a straight line from Henry Grady’s New South ideology to the white South’s practice of racial terror:
“Henry W. Grady in his well-remembered speeches in New England and New York pictured the Afro-American as incapable of self-government. Through him … the cry of the South to the country has been ‘Hands off! Leave us to solve our problem.’ To the Afro-American the South says, ‘the white man must and will rule.’ There is little difference between the Antebellum South and the New South.”
Under Grady’s editorial guidance, the Constitution wrote about lynching with disturbing levity, condoning and even encouraging it. One headline read “The Triple Trapeze: Three Negroes Hung to a Limb of a Tree.” Another rhymed “Two Minutes to Pray Before a Rope Dislocated Their Vertebrae.”
Yet another headline read: “Lynching Too Good For the Black Miscreant Who Assaulted Mrs. Bush: He Will Be Lynched.” And appallingly, the man was lynched. Today, his name – Reuben Hudson – appears on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument in Montgomery, Alabama, for victims of “racial terror lynchings.”
Some historians have called Grady a racial moderate for his time and place, but his own words suggest he was comfortable with racial violence.
Well before he became managing editor and part owner of the Constitution, Grady addressed an editorial in the Rome Commercial, a Georgia newspaper he edited early in his career, to his “friends” and “brothers” in the “Ku Klux Klan.”
“The strength and power of any secret organization rests in the attribute of mystery and hidden force,” he wrote. Its members “can be called together by a tiny signal, and when the work is done, can melt away into shadowy nothing.”
Convict labor in the ‘New South’
Lynching was not the only white tool of racial terror and control in the South. Another was the convict lease, which, along with lynching, Wells termed the “twin infamies” of the region.
Grady’s New South promise of cheap labor for industrialists was fulfilled in part by convict leasing – a penal system targeting black men, women and even children, who were routinely arrested for vagrancy, minor offenses and trumped up charges. Once convicted, victims were leased to private companies to serve their sentences working in coal mines, laying railroad tracks and making bricks.
Horrors awaited in these private labor camps: shackles, chains, rancid food, disease, filthy bedding, work from sunup to sundown and tortures like the “sweat box,” flogging, hanging by the thumbs, a water treatment akin to waterboarding and rape. Convicts were killed during escape attempts, in mine explosions and railroad accidents and by sadistic camp bosses.
Grady knew the convict lease system well. His newspaper reported on it frequently, as I discovered by reading material in his personal archive at Emory University and contemporaneous issues of the Constitution.
What’s more, from 1880 to his death in 1889, Grady served as kingmaker for a group of white supremacist Democrats – variously termed the “Atlanta Ring” and the “Bourbon Triumvirate” – who enriched themselves by leasing convicts from the state to work in their private businesses.
In an era of machine politics and a press aligned with political parties, Grady proved a master of both.
Using the Constitution as a tool of public influence, Grady helped appoint or elect Joseph E. Brown to the U.S. Senate (1880-1890), Alfred H. Colquitt to the governorship (1880-1882) and U.S. Senate (1883-1894), and John B. Gordon to the governorship (1886-1890).
Brown made a fortune working convicts at his Dade Coal Mines, where Colquitt was a major investor. Gordon worked convicts on his plantation and subleased others to companies and farmers.
In 1886, Grady sent a Constitution reporter to cover a rebellion at Brown’s coal mines. The prisoners were “ready to die, and would as soon be dead as to live in torture,” one convict said. The governor ordered the convicts starved into submission, and Grady’s reporter witnessed the flogging that followed their surrender. He called it “a special matinee” in his news report.
Black Georgians protested their powerful white neighbors profiteering off forced black labor. William White, editor of the black newspaper the Georgia Baptist, put it plainly: “The fortunes of many a prominent white Georgia family [are] red with the blood and sweat of Black men.”
Grady may have been a pioneering journalist, but his journalism served profoundly anti-democratic purposes.
The University of Georgia’s journalism school is named for Grady – a fitting namesake, it was recently said, because of Grady’s “work in uniting the country, not dividing the country.”
Grady may have united Southern and Northern whites, but he did not unite the country. Rather, he excluded black Americans from the union of North and South and the national democratic project that union represented.
The Grady College motto is “We Are Grady.” Thomas Fortune might well have asked Grady who he would include in that “we.”
Those conflicts, which ultimately placed justices on the court, yielded some of the most damaging civil rights decisions in our nation’s history.
Unlike any other branch of government, Supreme Court justices do not have to face voters at the polls. They have no term limits. Yet the high court is the final arbiter of constitutional rights and protections.
Controversial appointees who were rammed through hearings, or political careerists nominated for strategic reasons and confirmed despite scant vetting, handed down decisions that expanded slavery and rolled back civil rights.
Bad processes do not by themselves yield bad decisions. There have also been thinly vetted justices who have protected and extended civil rights, but such cases are in a minority.
So Jackson named Taney to the Supreme Court. The Senate refused to confirm him. The next year, after Jackson got a Democratic Senate, he renominated him, this time as chief justice. Taney was pushed hurriedly through confirmation.
The Taney Court was staunchly pro-slavery, rejecting states’ rights when Northerners asserted them to oppose slavery.
Taney’s most sweeping pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 held that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The decision ruled that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any U.S. territory. Dred Scott is widely considered to be one of the worst decisions ever made by the court.
A critical time
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was able to replace the Taney Court with corporation-friendly Republicans like Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, whom he nominated in 1862. Lincoln’s court strategy was to appoint Republicans who would endorse presidential powers in a war to save the Union.
Miller’s appointment came just as Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln could have asked Miller his views on the scope of black freedom, but he never did. He never even met Miller. And with no opposition in Congress, the Senate confirmed Miller in just hours.
Miller’s appointment may have been shrewd politics but it hollowed out the Civil War’s crowning achievement, the abolition of slavery and constitutional protections for African-American citizenship, including equal protection of the laws and the right to vote.
It was Miller’s majority ruling in the 5-4 Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 that had the effect of limiting civil rights protections for African-Americans under the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to African-Americans and forbade states to deny them equal protection of the laws. The ruling in effect gave states sole power over areas of citizenship not explicitly covered in the federal Constitution. That, in turn, ultimately led to the growth of racist Jim Crow laws in states.
President Ulysses Grant’s two nominees were also pushed through hastily and had an oversized impact on civil rights.
Those appointments – conservative pro-business Republican Joseph P. Bradley and political hack Morrison Waite – unwittingly undermined Grant’s own Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement.
In 1870 Grant appointed Bradley specifically to help business interests concerned about recent decisions that they believed harmed them. Bradley faced scant opposition from a majority-Republican Senate in bed with railroad and other corporate interests.
Four years later, Grant picked Waite, a crony of Grant’s Ohio friends, who had zero judicial experience. Called a “national nonentity” by a court historian, Waite’s appointment surprised everyone, including Waite. The Senate confirmed him without debate.
The unintended consequences of these two overtly political nominations became clear in U.S. v. Cruikshank, an 1876 court decision.
In April 1873, up to 150 African-Americans were murdered by whites in a conflict over two competing Louisiana governments. Among those whites was William Cruikshank.
Cruikshank and others who participated in the massacre were charged and convicted in federal court of civil rights violations under the Enforcement Act of 1870. That act made it a federal crime to violate civil rights and was passed with the intention of putting teeth in the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The case considered by the court was an appeal of those initial convictions.
Justice Waite ruled that the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, including the equal protections of the laws and right to due process, did not apply to the victims of the Colfax Massacre.
Bradley and Waite’s responses constituted willful blindness to a naked act of racial terrorism. And these decisions gutted the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, leading to the swift and violent rise of Jim Crow.
Bradley went on to rule in 1883 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlawed racial discrimination in public facilities, was unconstitutional. He did this at a time when blacks were being denied the right to vote, barred from businesses and murdered with impunity. Bradley tutted that with his ruling a black citizen “ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.” And the law ended protection for African-Americans from segregation in schools, theaters and even cemeteries.
It would be 74 years before Congress passed another civil rights act.
Not all justices involved in partisan nominations, or who were poorly vetted, handed down dreadful rulings.
Harold H. Burton was a surprise nomination when Democrat Harry Truman nominated the Republican senator from Ohio in 1945. The Senate dispensed with hearings and confirmed Burton without debate. But Burton defied expectations, shaping the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ruling that desegregated schools and overturned the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.”
Back to the 19th century
More recently, contested nominations have revived the 19th-century practice of ramming through partisans whose decisions undermine civil rights.
The 1991 Clarence Thomas nomination evokes that legacy. With a thin resume, partisan credentials, and his nomination hastily pushed through by George H. W. Bush’s administration, Thomas won a lifetime appointment by a two-vote margin after an acrimonious hearing involving his alleged sexual harrassment.
Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, like that of Morrison Waite, Joseph P. Bradley and Roger B. Taney, has been rushed. A partisan warrior, he has been hastily advanced, with the majority of his papers withheld and sexual assault allegations overtaking his hearings.
As American history has shown, this process comes with profound risks.
Some university leaders immediately went on the defense.
Harvard University stated that it plans to continue to use race as an admission factor to “create a diverse campus community where students from all walks of life have an opportunity to learn from and with each other.”
But, why is diversity essential for the educational mission of U.S. universities?
Advocates for diversity in higher education emphasize a variety of reasons. They range from business oriented considerations, like the need for a diverse and well-educated workforce to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse marketplace or the belief that diversity fosters innovation and creativity. Another reason is based on the idea that diversity enriches the educational experience of all students on campus, not just minorities.
In addition to the reasons above, we believe that diversity is also an ethical obligation of American universities. We write not only as professors but as higher education administrators with a keen interest in diversity on campus. We believe that promoting diversity in our campuses helps fulfill the inclusive vision that gave birth to our nation. This vision became enshrined in the Declaration of Independence when it proclaimed that “all men are created equal.”
Sadly, the “all men are created equal” proclamation was not a guiding principle for our universities not so long ago. Quite the contrary, they fostered ideas that promoted racial disparagement and exclusion, causing great harm to the country in ways that we must still deal with today. For instance, black students were not admitted to the University of Texas and many other universities until the 1950s, and lack of black representation among students and faculty remains an issue. The pursuit of diversity now can help universities make amends for aggressive anti-diversity practices of the recent past.
Universities and eugenics
At the beginning of the 20th century, many administrators, alumni and faculty members from American universities were at the forefront of the eugenics movement, a pseudoscience that sought to improve the genetic qualities of human populations by selective breeding. The movement was led by presidents of elite private institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, and also at public universities like Michigan and Wisconsin.
Eugenicists championed ideas of racial superiority. For them, the Nordic “race” – that is, people from Northern Europe, like Anglo-Americans – was the master race. Accordingly, they regarded Africans, Asians and even Southern and Eastern Europeans as inferior. They believed the immigration of these groups to the U.S. should be curtailed.
“The Nordic race will vanish or lose its dominance,” renowned Yale professor and economist Irving Fisher warned in 1921. Eugenicists were anti-diversity. They considered immigration and racial mixing a threat. They spoke of the “yellow peril,” the “flooding of the nation with foreign scum” and the arrival of “defectives, delinquents and dependents.” These views are not unlike President Trump’s recent complaints about Mexico sending “rapists” and “criminals,” or about admitting people into the U.S. from “shithole countries.”
The eugenecists’ ideas may not have predated the racial prejudices and segregationist practices that existed in the United States, but they provided academic validity to help sustain those prejudices and practices.
In 1896 the U.S. Supreme Court had paved the way for segregation when it ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that keeping races “separate but equal” was constitutional. Then in the 1920s, at the height of the racial caste system known as “Jim Crow,” the U.S. government embraced new policies promoted by eugenicists.
Those policies included new anti-miscegenation laws that criminalizedinterracial marriage. They also included forced sterilization programs. These programs affected all racial groups but especially targeted women, minorities and the poor. Eugenicists advocated effectively for forced sterilization in court cases that remained the law of the land for decades.
The eugenics movement also actively advocated in Congress for policies to prevent immigration by “undesirable” racial and ethnic groups. And the movement succeeded. With the Immigration Act of 1924, Congress implemented quotas that favored immigration from Northern Europe and drastically reduced arrivals of Eastern European, Jews, Italians and Africans. It completely stopped immigration from Asia.
These policies were developed to reverse fears of what President Theodore Roosevelt called “race suicide” or the dwindling of the Anglo-American “stock.”
Reversing a racist past
New York lawyer Madison Grant, a graduate of Yale and Columbia, was a prominent eugenicist and friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1916 he published “The Passing of the Great Race,” widely considered the most influential eugenics book. Grant attempts to use science to justify racism. The book was translated to German and after he became Fürher, Adolf Hitler wrote a fan letter to Grant thanking him and praising the book as “his Bible.”
The fact that thinkers from prestigious American universities provided the intellectual foundations for Hitler’s racial cleansing policies is scarcely mentioned in our country. We believe it is time for universities to undertake a discussion about this disturbing chapter of their history – a time when their own community led the development of white supremacist ideologies.It is also timely to reflect on the extraordinary impact universities can have in our nation and the world. A century after the misguided eugenics movement took a hold of higher education in the U.S., most universities now actively work to be inclusive and diverse. They must embrace their renewed values and help lead our nation toward a more just and equitable future.
By Kimberly R. Kras, University of Massachusetts Lowell
A fundamental right of U.S. citizenship is having your voice heard by voting to elect representatives. However, at least 6 million U.S. citizens cannot vote in the United States because they have been convicted of a felony.
Losing the right to vote is among numerous other consequences of being convicted of a crime. This so-called “civil death” suggests that person is considered dead to society. The larger political consequence is a lack of representation in government of a large group of citizens who are largely poor and people of color.
I study the impact of being convicted on individuals and communities. States have a variety of rules and regulations when it comes to voting rights and felony convictions. In some states, when a person is convicted they are barred from voting until they successfully complete prison, probation or parole. But in 12 states, people convicted of felonies are barred from voting for life.
In response to growing concern that these laws disenfranchise large segments of America’s citizens, several states have recently made substantial, yet controversial, changes to voting rights of ex-felons. This may be a growing movement.
In July, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about whether laws excluding felons from the right to vote are constitutional. In November, the state will vote on a ballot measure to restore ex-felon’s voting rights automatically upon completion of their sentence.
These decisions will impact a large segment of Florida’s voting-age population and continue to build a strong precedent for other states.
Florida has historically played an important role in American elections. Yet roughly 10 percent of Floridians can’t vote because they have been convicted of felonies. Research suggests that had these Americans been able to cast their vote for president in the 2000 election, Florida would have been a blue state. Studies show that ex-felons largely vote Democrat, and in this case would have made an impact in a presidential election.
That may be true, but research shows that for many ex-felons it’s because they don’t know they can. This means fewer people have input in electing representatives who generally support causes important to them such as rehabilitation for offenders and criminal justice reform.
Crime and the social contract
Some pundits and legal scholars argue that felons should not be eligible to vote because when people commit crime they violate the “social contract.” The social contract is the agreement among citizens to abide by rules and laws for the good of society. This reasoning says that those who break it, say by committing a crime, are no longer entitled to the benefits of the contract, such as political representation.
People who study criminal behavior often say the opposite is true. They argue that restoring voting rights may in fact reinstate the social contract and improve factors that led the individual to commit crime in the first place.
In research I conducted, and headed by professors Beth Huebner and Timothy Bynum, we spoke with people returning from prison about how their felony conviction impacted their life after release. One participant whose name is protected under a confidentiality agreement, stated: “Not being able to vote restricts our voice.”
Another participant stated how his inability to vote about things important to him, like justice reform, meant that other voters might reinforce laws and restrictions that affect him: “Those are usually the people who want to put harsher rules and penalties and categorize everybody the same. I feel that they allow more and more of those laws to be piled on us because we’re not allowed to speak our minds.”
Restoring voting rights signals to all citizens that those who have served their time for a past crime can participate in a key mechanism of civic engagement: voting. Participating in civic life is associated with reductions in recidivism, so an inclusive approach to democracy can only strengthen the political process. That’s because the interests of more Americans, especially those historically silenced, will be heard through their vote.
Ex-felons as citizens
Moreover, research has shown that denying voting rights impacts not just individuals, but also families and entire communities, especially those typically underrepresented in political arenas like people of color and those in poverty. For example, partners of ex-felons are less likely to vote.
Restricting ex-felons from voting really says that, if you have committed a crime in the U.S., you can never be a full citizen again, even after serving punishment. That message suggests that they are always second- or third-class citizens.
But studies have shown that when people are reintegrated meaningfully in our society, the chances that they return to prison are reduced and the public is safer. Without the right to vote, ex-felons have less of a benefit or an interest in contributing positively to our communities. Being fully engaged in your community and having a voice in what happens to you are vital connections to others in the community – connections that can act to reduce crime. Voting rights represent the epitome of what it means to be a U.S. citizen.