Rosa Parks, Now and Forever January 31, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: amy goodman, Civil Rights, e.d. nixon, history, jium crow, mandela, montgomery bus, naacp, pete seeger, Race, racism, raymond parks, roger hollander, rosa parks, we shall overcome
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On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., thus (Photo: Alabama Dept. Archives and History)
launching the modern-day civil-rights movement. Monday, Feb. 4, is the 100th anniversary of her birth. After she died at the age of 92 in 2005, much of the media described her as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. But the media got it wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker.
Professor Jeanne Theoharis debunks the myth of the quiet seamstress in her new book “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Theoharis told me, “This is the story of a life history of activism, a life history that she would put it, as being ‘rebellious,’ that starts decades before her famous bus stand and ends decades after.”
She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised to believe that she had a right to be respected, and to demand that respect. Jim Crow laws were entrenched then, and segregation was violently enforced. In Pine Level, where she lived, white children got a bus ride to school, while African-American children walked. Rosa Parks recalled: “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”
In her late teens, Rosa met Raymond Parks, and they married. Rosa described Raymond Parks as the first activist she had ever met. He was a member of the local Montgomery NAACP chapter, and, when she learned that women were welcome at the meetings, she attended. She was elected the chapter’s secretary.
It was there that Rosa met and worked with E.D. Nixon, a radical labor organizer. Rosa Parks was able to attend the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, in 1955. The school was a gathering place for activists—black and white together—committed to overcoming segregation, and for developing strategies and tactics for nonviolent resistance to it. It was there that Pete Seeger and others wrote the song “We Shall Overcome” as the enduring anthem of the civil-rights movement.
When she met Nelson Mandela after his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”
When Rosa Parks died, she was the first African-American woman to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. I raced down to Washington, D.C., to cover her memorial service. I met a young college student and asked her why she was there standing outside with so many hundreds of people listening to the service on loudspeakers. She said proudly, “I emailed my professors and said I won’t be in class today; I’m going to get an education.”
Rosa Parks has much to teach us. In fact, she and other young women had refused to give up their seats on the bus before Dec. 1, 1955. You never know when that magic moment will come. This Feb. 4, the U.S. Postal Service will release a Rosa Parks Forever stamp, a reminder of the enduring mark she made. Rosa Parks was no tired seamstress. As she said of that brave action she took, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
U.S. is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers August 31, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: afrrican americans, american gulag, glen ford, police state, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture, us prisons
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
There’s no getting around the fact that the United States is the Mother of All Police States. China can’t compete in the incarceration business. With four times the U.S. population, it imprisons only 70 percent as many people – about the same number as the non-white prison population of the U.S. Even worse, 80,000 U.S. inmates undergo the torture of solitary confinement on any given day.
U.S. is the Worst Police State in the World – By the Numbers
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.”
When U.S. corporate media operatives use the term “police state,” they invariably mean some other country. Even the so-called “liberal” media, from Democracy Now to the MSNBC menagerie, cannot bring themselves to say “police state” and the “United States” without putting the qualifying words “like” or “becoming” in the middle. The U.S. is behaving “like” a police state, they say, or the U.S. is in danger of “becoming” a police state. But it is never a police state. Since these privileged speakers and writers are not themselves in prison – because what they write and say represents no actual danger to the state – they conclude that a U.S. police state does not, at this time, exist.
Considering the sheer size and social penetration of its police and imprisonment apparatus, the United States is not only a police state, but the biggest police state in the world, by far: the police state against whose dimensions all other police systems on Earth must be measured.
By now, even the most insulated, xenophobic resident of the Nebraska farm belt knows that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. He might not know that 25 percent of prison inmates in the world are locked up in the U.S., or that African Americans comprise one out of every eight of the planet’s prisoners. But, that Nebraska farmer is probably aware that America is number one in the prisons business. He probably approves. God bless the police state.
For the American media, including lots of media that claim to be of the Left, it is axiomatic that China is a police state. And maybe, by some standards, it is. But, according to United Nations figures, China is 87th in the world in the proportion of its people who are imprisoned. China is a billion people bigger than the United States – more than four times the population – yet U.S. prisons house in excess of 600,000 more people than China does. The Chinese prison population is just 70 percent of the American Gulag. That’s quite interesting because, non-whites make up about 70 percent of U.S. prisons. That means, the Black, brown, yellow and red populations of U.S. prisons number roughly the same as all of China’s incarcerated persons. Let me emphasize that: The American People of Color Gulag is as large as the entire prison population of China, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people.
“Solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture.”
However, police states must be measured by conditions behind the bars, as well as raw numbers of inmates. And, by that standard, the American Gulag is even more monstrous.
Civilized people now recognize that solitary confinement is a form of torture. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, reports that solitary confinement beyond 15 days at a stretch crosses the line of torture, yet, as Al Jazeera recently reported, it is typical for hundred of thousands of U.S. prisoners to spend 30 or 60 days in solitary at a stretch. Twenty thousand are held in perpetual isolation in so-called supermax prisons – that is, they exist in a perpetual state of torture. Studies now show that, all told, 80,000 U.S. prisoners are locked up in solitary on any given day.That’s as many tortured people as the entire prison system of Germany, or of England, Scotland and Wales, combined.
If that is not a police state, then no such thing exists on planet Earth.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to Black Agenda Report.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Chavis Carter case: Police chief’s past causes skepticism among black Jonesboro residents August 3, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Race, Racism.
Tags: alexis garrett stodghill, chavis carter, Civil Rights, jonesboro arkansas, justifiable homicide, michael yates, police racism, police shooting, Race, racism, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: this is nothing new. It has been open season since Reconstruction for racist police and others murdering Afro Americans. Let’s wait and see what happens. It will not surprise me if at the end of the day the killing or Chavis Carter whose hands were cuffed behind his back is confirmed as a suicide (if Houdini could have done it, why not Mr. Carter?); or, if it turns out it was a cop who shot him, justifiable homicide.
Twenty-one-year-old Chavis Carter was visiting the town of Jonesboro, Arkansas when he died from a gunshot wound to the head, while seated in the back of a police cruiser. Police ruled Carter’s death a suicide, but the fact that his hands were cuffed behind him during the incident has raised doubts about the officers’ account. The controversy surrounding the case has caused the local black community in Jonesboro to question police chief Michael Yates — already unpopular with African-Americans — about his department’s explanation, and to unearth disturbing details from Yates’ past.
“How does a person who is handcuffed — when the police found him he still had his hands cuffed behind his back — commit suicide? That’s been the big question,” Rev. Perry Jackson, the president of the Jonesboro NAACP, told theGrio.
- Police chief admits: shooting scenario ‘defies logic’
- Details of the Chavis Carter Case
- Read the police report
- Complete theGrio coverage: the Chavis Carter Case
“So to add to the stigma he has of being unfair to the minority population,” Jackson added of Yates’ reputation, “people are really questioning what’s really going on. That’s the mood in the black community.”
Jackson said Carter’s parents denied that he was suicidal. “I’ve met with the mother and I’ve met with the father, Teresa Carter and Charles Douglas,” Jackson said of visiting them in Carter’s native Mississippi. “As far as their reactions, they don’t believe that their son committed suicide. According to his mother, he’s just not that type of person who would kill himself. His father said it as well.”
These perspectives reinforce the lack of trust that many in Jonesboro’s African-American community have in Yates, who Jackson says has done little to reach out to them. “I personally think that if Chief Yates would do more as far as community relations, Jonesboro would probably be a better place to live, but I don’t think he’s really willing to work with the public,” he said.
Black leaders in Jonesboro also attest to Yates ignoring calls to increase diversity within the police force; a dismissal that stings more sharply now that an African-American man has died while under arrest and under unusual circumstances.
The Jonesboro police department has confirmed to theGrio that of the 149 officers on the force, only three are African-American. Dr. George Grant, co-chair of the Diversity Coalition of Jonesboro, has been working to change that for over a year. ”Our position was that this was not satisfactory,” Grant told theGrio. “That is not representative of the diversity in the community.”
Jonesboro has about 68,000 residents. Census data shows that the city experienced a population growth of 21.2 percent between 2000 and 2010, many of whom Rev. Jackson says were African-Americans. As of 2010, the city’s black population was 18.4 percent of the total. Currently, blacks make up only 2 percent of the police force.
“Last September, we addressed the city council in Jonesboro about the lack of diversity in the police and fire department,” Grant said. ”We made presentations to the city council, and we came back and made recommendations on ways to improve access to those jobs in the police and fire department, and they have not responded.”
Yates responded to emails from theGrio requesting comment, by sending a summary of applicants, test results and potential new hires to the department, dated April 2012, but did not directly address the Diversity Coalition’s allegations. Civil rights leaders in Jonesboro see the dearth of people of color among police as a potential source of problems, which Carter’s death might be evidence of.
“I think it’s a problem because of the lack of diversity within the police department, and the fire department,” Rev. Jackson added. “But the chief of the fire department — we’ve been a little bit better able to work with him than Chief Yates. Our Hispanic population is also growing in this area. We need to get more minorities in the police department. Not just being secretaries and things like that, but working the streets.”
Grant, who is also an active member of the NAACP in Jonesboro, is disturbed by what he calls Yates’ lack of action in addressing the alarm of the black community over Carter’s death, as well as the silence of the mayor and other city officials. TheGrio reached out to the two African-American members of the Jonesboro city council, Rev. Renell Woods and Dr. Charles Coleman. Rev. Woods did not respond to an email, while Dr. Coleman declined to comment. Jonesboro mayor Harold Perrin did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
“We want to take the city to task when things like this happen. We need to understand why a young man who was 150 pounds, who was handcuffed, would shoot himself — could shoot himself — with a gun, after he’s been searched twice. It’s just not logical. And it’s not physically possible,” Gates asserted. “We’re trying to figure out how that could happen, and how they could expect us to accept that it has happened. This has to be dealt with so that people can start to feel safe in those communities.”
Yates confirmed to theGrio that FBI is reviewing the Carter case.
Distrust of chief stretches back to previous tenure
Grant and Jackson explained that part of the black community’s distrust of Yates stems from allegations that arose when he was the police chief in Americus, Georgia. ”Things that have happened before in his administration of a police department are starting to happen here,” Gates said about Yates’ previous position. “That suggests something for the future. We need to deal with it.”
Yates was the police chief in Americus from May 2001 through April 2004, according to that city’s Human Resources department. Yates voluntarily resigned from the position, but his tenure and departure were both mired in controversy.
John Marshall, who was president of the NAACP while Yates was Americus’ police chief, says he found the leader of the force to be a negative influence. “He is a rogue police chief,” Marshall told theGrio. “We did everything to get him out of here, and it’s been a great relief to have him away from here. But he left a lot of his men that were abusive and violent. And that’s his nature. He’s the worst thing we’ve ever seen.”
Marshall’s strong feelings result from a scandal which pitted the Americus NAACP against Yates when he was chief. Marshall, who is also the owner and publisher of the black newspaper, The Americus Sumter Observer, says the NAACP was working at the time to expose abuses he says Yates’ officers were perpetuating against the black community.
“Basically the conflict we had with him was this. We had an NAACP vice president that used to go to the city council meetings and complain about Yates’ behavior. He was being rough with our citizens. Several of his police officers were beating guys unnecessarily — a lot of abuse,” Marshall alleges.
Yates used unsavory means to return fire, Marshall believes. ”In order to get back at my vice president, [named Craig Walker], he did an illegal background check on this young man and found out that when he was 17 he had [been involved in a robbery],” Marshall told theGrio, adding that Yates “did not follow the proper steps to do that. You are not supposed to do that unless there is a real cause for that kind of search.”
In response, the local NAACP launched a campaign to have Yates removed. Instead, the chief voluntarily stepped down. “They really let him resign and get on out of here, which we were glad of,” Marshall related about the conclusion of the incident.
Nelson Brown, currently an Americus city council member, served under Yates as a commander. “I don’t want to rehash any old wounds. We are trying to move forward,” Brown told theGrio about his time working for Yates.
Yet, Brown believes that he “had some issues with race. He was not good for the department,” Brown said. “When he left the department, it was in worse shape than when he got there, and we managed to recover. He came to our department like he was on a mission. And that mission was not for the growth of the department, nor the community, as a whole.”
Grant and Jackson are among those who say they know Yates left Americus amid serious charges of racism and abuse of power. Yates’ history in Americus has filtered into Jonesboro in the form of rumors among that city’s black inhabitants. TheGrio has requested comments from Yates regarding his side of the story, but so far has not received comment.
Yates’ alleged dismissal of the Diversity Coalitions’ findings have not helped to illuminate his past for skeptical members of Jonesboro’s black community. Now, Carter’s death has worsened already negative feelings about him among some residents.
“So, he comes to Jonesboro and imposes his attitudes on Jonesboro,” Grant said of his perception of Yates’ management style.
Jackson cannot say for certain whether Chavis Carter’s death is an outgrowth of Yates’ leadership, or simply a tragic confluence of mistakes unrelated to his decisions. “I’m still looking into that, so I can’t really answer that,” Jackson said.
For now, the president of the Jonesboro NAACP is focused on the future, and how to help a community and a family that needs support.
The executive board of the NAACP met last night to map out a plan to assist the city and Carter’s family. “There are still problems in terms of race relations in the city. We want to bring it to the forefront, and try to come together as a community, because it’s about speaking out in a non-violent way to make people aware of the issues,” Jackson said.
A vigil is planned for Monday in Jonesboro, which will be co-organized by the NAACP and other area religious and civic groups.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do? May 12, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Poverty, Race.
Tags: balck leadership, black caucus, black congressmen, black elected officials, black leaders, black mayors, black politicians, bruce dixon, democrats, naacp, president obama, Race, roger hollander, urban league
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By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Do the black political class, our preachers, leading business people, and thousands of appointed and elected officials actually do us much good? Do they protect or defend us? Do they carry our wishes and will to the seats of power. Or do they just “represent” us by merely being there doing the bidding of corporate funders?
Does the Black Political Class Actually Protect or Defend Black People? If Not, What Do They Do?
By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Let’s take a trip to an imaginary black America, a place in which black leaders regularly stood on their hind legs to safeguard and protect the interest of their constituents against greedy banksters and institutional racism in the job, credit and housing markets. It’s a pretend world where African American politicians are busily engaged in building and expanding opportunity for all, and leading the fight for peace, jobs, justice, and quality education and participatory democracy. It’s a mythical place where prominent blacks in the business world too, work to create good jobs and stable communities and provide key support to the civic organizations engaged in this work as well.
Imagine that the Katrina disaster had occurred in such an imaginary world. Black America’s best and brightest would have convened hundreds of meetings and workgroups in real and virtual spaces across the country. Urban planners, educators, and professionals of all stripes would have speedily devised just and equitable plans for regional education, transit, agriculture, tourism and more. They would have insisted that the six figure number of black Gulf Coast residents deported to the four corners of the continental US on buses paid for by charitable donations to the Red Cross be returned and put to work rebuilding a just and sustainable region. This single example reveals that such a world, if it did exist would differ so profoundly from the one we know as to be almost unrecognizable.
In the real world that does exist, we now have more than 10,000 black elected officials, from small town mayors and sheriffs up to forty-some reps in Congress and the president. Still, black unemployment, black incarceration rates, foreclosures on black homeowners and the gap between black and white family wealth are at or near all time highs, with not a one of these key indicators moving rapidly in any good direction.
Black faces are found more often than ever in corporate boardrooms. Chevron named a tanker after Condoleezza Rice, one of its longtime board members. In recent years, black corporate execs have run the NAACP, the National Urban League and big-city school systems like Atlanta, where public schools CEO Erroll Davis boasts that he learned all he needed to know about running a school system in his time on the board of BP. Black-owned and operated banks in cities like New York are heavily invested in gentrifying developments that push African Americans out of the five boroughs toward the suburban periphery, or in many cases, back to the South. Some contend that it is the shriveling of urban housing and job markets in places like Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Detroit that accounts for the net flow of black population in the twenty-first century reversing from the north back to the south, something not seen in almost a hundred years.
National black leaders, even with popular winds at their backs were unable to prevent the legal lynching of Troy Davis. Since the freelance killing of Trayvon Martin more than thirty police and vigilante killings of young blacks have occurred, and our leaders can’t point to even the beginnings of any official process on the national level aimed at preventing the next thirty. Like the man whose lower lip brush the ground and whose upper lip caresses the clouds, they are all mouth.
Local black political leaders in places like Columbia SC and Atlanta GA have proved as vicious toward the homeless as any of their white colleagues. Black mayors like Philly’s Michael Nutter have endorsed widespread stop-and-frisk policies that presumptively criminalize black youth, and like his black and white counterparts in City Halls across the land, the mayor of Philadelphia tells parents and children that there is no alternative to the piecemeal destruction of public education, driving it into a crisis whose only solution, we will be told, is privatization. The black mayor of Newark is pushing to privatize that city’s water system, and the black mayor of Atlanta has proposed taxing rainwater that some catch as an alternative to the city’s wate rsupply.
At the 2004 Democratic convention, pointedly held on and constantly referring to the anniversary of King’s 1963 March on Washington, Barack Obama gathered more than 20 African American generals and admirals on stage around him, hypocritically linking their mission with that of the apostle of economic justice and nonviolence. Despite the fact that black America is the most antiwar segment of the US population, Barack Obama has boosted military spending to all time highs, has put more troops in more countries than any of his predecessors, and is waging wars in more countries, including African countries than any president in recent memory.
At that Democratic convention, just like the one in North Carolina this year, the goodie bags and receptions will be held by AT&T, the nuclear industry, GE and GM, Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Insurance, drone manufacturers and “defense” contractors, defending US interests in more than 140 countries. Nobody will be the least surprised when Barack Obama again proclaims himself the president of “clean coal and safe nuclear power.” For the black political class, the road leads to exactly the same destination as their white counterparts.
The Congressional Black Caucus and the CBC Foundation like the careers of most black politicians, and traditional civil rights organizations, from NAN to NAACP, the Urban League, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the National Conference of Black State Legislators, is funded by the generous contributions of actors like Microsoft, Boeing, Lockheed, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and on and on and on on and on. It’s hard to regard most of the black political class these days as anything but sock puppets for the folks who fund their careers.
The Congressional Black Caucus still stages a weeklong annual celebration of itself and the black political class. A look at its weeklong agenda any time over last few years shows lots of relationship workshops, celebrity meet-and-greets and workshops on how to be a black military subcontractor, a black real estate developer, a movie producer, or a contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. You will search in vain for workshops on how to organize to protect black homeowners and keep them in their homes, how to prevent municipal and state privatizations of transit, education and infrastructures, how to organize unions and strike for better wages and conditions, or sessions how to obtain permanent title to vacant urban land for community agriculture projects.
There are a handful of corporate actors, like Koch Industries and Exxon-Mobil that give exclusively or mainly to Republicans. But these are relatively few, and there are some big players that give mostly to Democrats as well. For the most part however, corporate America is happily bipartisan, with a pronounced bias toward incumbents of whatever party and color, and only too happy to shine on the favorite charities of black congresscreatures in the inner city, or Tom Joyner’s computer giveaways, or pet charter schools in black communities, to name just a few.
President Barack Obama, far from being the exception to this rule, will be standing atop a heap of more than one billion dollars in direct corporate contributions to his re-election campaign this year, in addition to another billion in indirect contributions to super-PACs, state and national Democratic parties, and other channels, even without the nickels and dimes of a diminishing number of hopeful ordinary people.
Since it doesn’t protect us, doesn’t defend our jobs, our homes, our education, our children or our elderly, all that the black political class can do for black people, all they can do to prolong their careers, is to wave in our faces the rancid racism of their Republican colleagues. And that’s what Republicans are —- not their rivals, but their colleagues. Keeping the black conversation focused on what racist s.o.bs these Republicans are is vital to the survival of the black political class. It takes attention away from the fact that black politicians in power, of whatever party, no matter what they say on the campaign trail, pursue roughly the same policies in office, in keeping with the fact that they all have the same funders.
The ideology of the black political class is best described with the clumsy world “representationalism”. It’s supposed to “represent” us, mostly by looking like us, but while not defending our children or elderly, not protecting our families or jobs or institutions, not defending our political gains or the public sector that our advocacy built. And the last thing the black political class will do is argue with militarism or war, even though these penalize black communities and nonwhite people around the world. It is only now, with the ascension of a black president, prominent blacks in all branches of the military, courts and corporate American that the end of the representationalist rainbow can clearly be seen. This is it. This is as good as it gets.
It’s time for something completely different. It’s been a long time since we had black leadership that didn’t depend on corporate America for its funding. But until our people can throw up new leaders and mass organizations whose bills aren’t paid by corporate elites, little will change. It’s time for all of us, and especially for those who would be leaders to let pharaoh go.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Private Prison Corporations Are Slave Traders May 4, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Labor, Race, Racism.
Tags: black incarceation, corrections, corrections corporation, crime, glen ford, mass incarceration, prisons, privatization, Race, racism, roger hollander, slave labor
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
Crime has been going down for nearly a generation, and the states have finally put the brakes on prison growth in response to the fiscal crunch. But Wall Street prison profiteers see the crisis as an opportunity. The Corrections Corporation of America has offered to buy nearly all the nation’s state prisons. “To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full.”
Private Prison Corporations Are Slave Traders
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The Corrections Corporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.”
The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, this month sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner.
For the last two years, the number of inmates held in state prisons has declined slightly, largely because the states are short on money. Crime, of course, has declined dramatically in the last 20 years, but that has never dampened the states’ appetites for warehousing ever more Black and brown bodies, and the federal prison system is still growing. However, the CorrectionsCorporation of America believes the economic crisis has created an historic opportunity to become the landlord, as well as the manager, of a big chunk of the American prison gulag.
The attempted prison grab is also defensive in nature. If private companies can gain both ownership and management of enough prisons, they can set the prices without open-bid competition for prison services, creating a guaranteed cost-plus monopoly like that which exists between the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex.
“If private companies are allowed to own the deeds to prisons, they are a big step closer to owning the people inside them.”
But, for a better analogy, we must go back to the American slave system, a thoroughly capitalist enterprise that reduced human beings to units of labor and sale. The Corrections Corporation of America’s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission read very much like the documents of a slave-trader. Investors are warned that profits would go down if the demand for prisoners declines. That is, if the world’s largest police state shrinks, so does the corporate bottom line. Dangers to profitability include “relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws.” The corporation spells it out: “any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.” At the Corrections Corporation of America, human freedom is a dirty word.
But, there is something even more horrifying than the moral turpitude of the prison capitalists. If private companies are allowed to own the deeds to prisons, they are a big step closer to owning the people inside them. Many of the same politicians that created the system of mass Black incarceration over the past 40 years, would gladly hand over to private parties all responsibility for the human rights of inmates. The question of inmates’ rights is hardly raised in the debate over prison privatization. This is a dialogue steeped in slavery and racial oppression. Just as the old slave markets were abolished, so must the Black American Gulag be dismantled – with no compensation to those who traffic in human beings.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Tags: abby zimet, Arizona, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, eric holder, Immigration, joe arpaio, police-state terror, Race, racial profiling, racism, roger hollander, Sheriff Joe Arpaio
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The Color of Collaboration
by Abby Zimet, www.commondreams.org, January 17, 2012
Though the feds, after a three-year investigation, have charged Arizona’s racist thug and Sheriff Joe Arpaio with overseeing the worst racial profiling ever recorded, the nation’s two top (black) justice officials – President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder – say they will “collaborate” with Arpaio to remedy abuses that grossly violate their own guidelines, says a scathing Phoenix New Times story, “Coddling Joe: How Do You Collaborate with A Felon?” Michael Lacey details Arpaio’s history of “police-state terror”: bullying the defenseless by sending out armed, ski-masked, body-armored SWAT teams to arrest drivers with busted turn signals; blatantly destroying a mountain of racist evidence; and finally, defiantly, not exactly quaking in his boots before the federal charges, but, rather, responding with a declaration he “will not cower,” accompanied by 29 pages of “lawyers’ brain vomit, lies, and threats.”
Tags: abby zimet, atlanta school, education, georgia schools, mary elizabeth williams, Race, racism, roger hollander, slavery
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by Abby Zimet
Good job if you got seven. Bad job if you’re a teacher at the Georgia school where third-graders actually got that math question, along with others on slaves picking cotton and kids getting beatings. After two fathers complained, a school official explained, evidently straight-faced, the teachers were “trying to do a cross-curricular activity.” Yeah, and let’s cut even more from school budgets so they can attract even more clueless teachers for our kids.
, Jan 9, 2012 1:45 PM 17:01:53 EST
For an Atlanta elementary school, slavery references plus word problems equals a heap of trouble
Let’s see if you’re smarter than a Gwinnett County third-grade math teacher. If, in the year 2012, an Atlanta-area elementary school asks its students to solve arithmetic problems about how much fruit a slave can pick — and how many beatings he might get in a week — exactly how many rounds of ammunition has that school just fired into its own feet?
In the most misguided attempt at social understanding since Kirk Lazarus donned blackface, Beaver Ridge Elementary School decided earlier this term to shoehorn a little of the antebellum into its math worksheets. “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” asks one. Another posits, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Let’s see … Divide by eight, multiply by seven … got it. The answer is, “Oh my God are you people crazy?”
In a surprise to exactly no one, save the school’s faculty, parents were displeased to discover their children — the majority of whom are minorities – were being grilled on the subjects of slave labor and ass whippings. Apparently at Beaver Ridge, there are four R’s – reading, writing, arithmetic and racism. As one stunned father told local station WSB-TV, “It blew me away.”
In a hasty damage control effort, school official Sloan Roach explained that the questions were part of a “cross-curricular activity” designed to incorporate math and social studies. Another question, for example, touched upon the fine Susan B. Anthony received for attempting to vote. But without context, the word problems make abuse seem as normal as a question about how many pencils are in a box.
The school says it will now more carefully review assignments before handing them out, and the vice principal assures that the worksheets have now been shredded. And in a breathtaking understatement, Sloan admitted to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Saturday that “Clearly, they did not do as good of a job as they should have done. It was just a poorly written question.” Time to compare and contrast, students! “Where’s the party at?” — that’s a poorly worded question. “How many beatings would the slave get?” is a fiasco.
The AJC reports that “62 percent of the school’s students are Hispanic or Latino, 24 percent are black or African-American and 5 percent are white.” But Beaver Ridge’s ethnic makeup is almost irrelevant. The questions would simply be a different kind of horribly wrong were the student body predominantly white.
Were the school’s teachers — who have conspicuously not been identified — being deliberately provocative by setting their questions within a difficult chapter of American history? Likely they were just being stunningly insensitive. As one poster on the AJC website noted, they sure didn’t ask any questions like, “If 20 slaves escaped each day of the month, how many slaves would be free by the end of the month?”
Using social studies as a springboard for math is actually a great idea. And making classroom lessons dynamic with real-world context is a time-tested device to teach children the ways numbers are applied in life. Let’s hope this failure doesn’t stop smart and more sensitive teachers from coming up with creative approaches that, you know, don’t involve beatings. Sadly, too, the whole screw-up reinforces the stereotype of what a poster at the New York Daily News referred to as “the New South [that] still has people who loved the Old South.”
Of course, our kids need to be taught history, especially its most painful aspects. But it doesn’t take a whiz to figure out that the debacle in Georgia would earn a big fat zero from the start. The best it can become now is a teachable moment – for school administrators.
The Gospel of the Penniless, Jobless, Marginalized and Despised January 9, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Poverty, Race, Racism, Religion.
Tags: African Americans, black power, chris hedges, Civil Rights, james baldwin, james cone, jim crow, lynching, poverty, Race, racism, reinhold niebuhr, religion, roger hollander, slavery, the cross, theology
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(Photo: Michael Kalus)
“The Cross and the Lynching Tree are separated by nearly two thousand years,” James Cone writes in his new book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” “One is the universal symbol of the Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or tree, relatively few people, apart from the black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections. Yet, I believe this is the challenge we must face. What is at stake is the credibility and the promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society.”
So begins James Cone, perhaps the most important contemporary theologian in America, who has spent a lifetime pointing out the hypocrisy and mendacity of the white church and white-dominated society while lifting up and exalting the voices of the oppressed. He writes out of his experience as an African-American growing up in segregated Arkansas and his close association with the Black Power movement. But what is more important is that he writes out of a deep religious conviction, one I share, that the true power of the Christian Gospel is its unambiguous call for liberation from forces of oppression and for a fierce and uncompromising condemnation of all who oppress.
Cone, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, writes on behalf of all those whom the Salvadoran theologian and martyr Ignacio Ellacuría called “the crucified peoples of history.” He writes for the forgotten and abused, the marginalized and the despised. He writes for those who are penniless, jobless, landless and without political or social power. He writes for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those who are transgender. He writes for undocumented farmworkers toiling in misery in the nation’s agricultural fields. He writes for Muslims who live under the terror of war and empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he writes for us. He understands that until white Americans can see the cross and the lynching tree together, “until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black-body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”
“In the deepest sense, I’ve been writing this book all my life,” he said of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” when we spoke recently. “I put my whole being into it. And did not hold anything back. I didn’t choose to write it. It chose me.”
“I started reading about lynching, and reading about the historical situation of the crosses in Rome in the time of Jesus, and then my question was how did African-Americans survive and resist the lynching terror. How did they do it?” [Nearly 5,000 African-American men, women and children were lynched in the United States between 1880 and 1940.] “To live every day under the terror of death. I grew up in Arkansas. I know something about that. I watched my mother and father deal with that. But the moment I read about it, historically, I had to ask how did they survive, how did they keep their sanity in the midst of that terror? And I discovered it was the cross. It was their faith in that cross, that if God was with Jesus, God must be with us, because we’re up on the cross too. And then the other question was, how could white Christians, who say they believe that Jesus died on the cross to save them, how could they then turn around and put blacks on crosses and crucify them just like the Romans crucified Jesus? That was an amazing paradox to me. Here African-Americans used faith to survive and resist, and fight, while whites used faith in order to terrorize black people. Two communities. Both Christian. Living in the same faith. Whites did lynchings on church grounds. How could they do it? That’s where [my] passion came from. That’s where the paradox came from. That’s where the wrestling came from.”
“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation. Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”
Cone’s chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr, the most important Christian social ethicist of the 20th century and a theologian whose work Cone teaches, exposes Niebuhr’s blindness to and tacit complicity in white oppression. Slavery, segregation and the terror of lynching have little or no place in the theological reflections of Niebuhr or any other white theologian. Niebuhr, as Cone points out, had little empathy for those subjugated by white colonialists. Niebuhr claimed that North America was a “virgin continent when the Anglo-Saxons came, with a few Indians in a primitive state of culture.” He saw America as being elected by God for the expansion of empire, and, as Cone points out, “he wrote about Arabs of Palestine and people of color in the Third World in a similar manner, offering moral justification for colonialism.”
Cone reprints a radio dialogue between Niebuhr and writer James Baldwin that took place after the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls. Niebuhr, who spoke in the language of moderation that infuriated figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Baldwin, was disarmed by Baldwin’s eloquence and fire.
The only people in this country at the moment who believe either in Christianity or in the country are the most despised minority in it. … It is ironical … the people who were slaves here, the most beaten and despised people here … should be at this moment … the only hope this country has. It doesn’t have any other. None of the descendants of Europe seem to be able to do, or have taken it on themselves to do, what Negros are now trying to do. And this is not a chauvinistic or racial outlook. It probably has something to do with the nature of life itself. It forces you, in any extremity, any extreme, to discover what you really live by, whereas most Americans have been for so long, so safe and so sleepy, that they don’t any longer have any real sense of what they live by. I think they really think it may be Coca-Cola.
“If Niebuhr could ignore it, there must be something defective in that faith itself,” Cone said. “If it weren’t defective then they wouldn’t put black people on crosses. Niebuhr wouldn’t have been silent about it. I look around and see the same thing happening today in the prison industrial complex. You can lynch people by more than just hanging them on the tree. You can incarcerate them. How long will this terror last? I’m Christian. Suffering gives rise to faith. It helps you deal with it. But at the same time suffering contradicts the faith that it gave rise to. It is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. I can’t give up with the wrestling.”
Cone wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. But Barth, he admits, never moved him deeply. Cone found his inspiration in the black church, along with writers such as Baldwin, Albert Camus and Richard Wright, as well as the great blues artists of his youth. These artists and writers, not the white theologians, he said, gave him “a sense of awe.” He saw that “for most blacks it was the blues and religion that offered the chief weapons of resistance.” It was religion and the blues that “offered sources of hope that there was more to life than what one encountered daily in the white man’s world.” In the words of great poets and writers, in the verses of the great blues singers and in the thunderous services of the black church, not in the words of white theologians, Cone discovered those who were able to confront the bleak circumstances of their lives and yet defy fate and suffering to make the most of what little life had offered them. He had through these connections found his own voice, one that was powerfully expressed in his first work, the 1969 manifesto “Black Theology & Black Power.” Cone understood that “when people do not want to be themselves, but somebody else, that is utter despair.” And he knew that his faith “was the one thing white people could not control or take away.” He quotes the bluesman Robert Johnson:
I got to keep movinnnn’, I got to keep movinnnn’, Blues fallin’ like hail And the day keeps on worrin’ me, There’s a hellhound on my trail.
“I wanted to go back to study literature and get a Ph.D. in that at the University of Chicago in the 1960s and do it with Nathan Scott [who was then teaching theology and literature at the University of Chicago],” he said. “But the freedom movement was too urgent. I said to myself, ‘You have a Ph.D., if you ain’t got nothing to say now you ain’t never going to have anything to say.’ I’ve never taught a course on Barth.”
“I like people who talk about the real, concrete world,” he said. “And unless I can feel it in my gut, in my being, I can’t say it. The poor help me to say it. The literary people help me to say it—Baldwin is my favorite. Martin King is the next. Malcolm is the third element of my trinity. The poets give me energy. Theologians talk about things removed, way out there. They talk to each other. They give each other degrees. The real world is not there. So that is why I turn to the poets. They talk to the people.”
“Being Christian is like being black,” Cone said. “It’s a paradox. You grow up. You wonder why they treat you like that. And yet at the same time my mother and daddy told me ‘don’t hate like they hate. If you do, you will self-destruct. Hate only kills the hater, not the hated.’ It was their faith that gave them the resources to transcend the brutality and see the real beauty. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery how African-Americans, after two and half centuries of slavery, another century of lynching and Jim Crow segregation, still come out loving white people. Now, most white people don’t think I love them, but I do. They always feel strange when I say that. You see, the deeper the love, the more the passion, especially when the one you love hurt you. Your brothers and sisters, and yet they treat you like the enemy. The paradox is, is that in spite of all that, African-Americans are the only people who’ve never organized to take down this nation. We have fought. We have given our lives. No matter what they do to us we still come out whole. Still searching for meaning. I think the resources for that are in the culture and in the religion that is associated with that. That faith and that culture, it was the blues of the spiritual, that faith and that culture gives African-Americans a sense that they are not what white people say they are.”
Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.” The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.” Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”
“It’s like love,” he said. “It’s something you cannot articulate. It’s self-evident in its own living. And I’ve seen it among many black Christians who struggle, particularly in the civil rights movement. They know they’re going to die. They know they’re not going to win in the obvious way of winning. But they have to do what they gonna do because the reality that they encounter in that spiritual moment, that reality is more powerful than the opposition, than that which contradicts it. People respond to what empowers them inside. It makes them know they are somebody when the world treats them as nobody. When you can do that, when you can act out of that spirit, then you know there is a reality that is much bigger than you. And that’s, that’s what black religion bears witness to in all of its flaws. It bears witness to a reality that empowers people to do that which seems impossible. I grew up with that. I really don’t ever remember wishing I was white. I may have, but I really don’t remember. It’s because the reality of my own community was so strong, that that was more important than the material things I saw out there. Their [African-Americans’] music, their preaching, their loving, their dancing—everything was much more interesting.”
“How do a people know that they are not what the world says they are when they have so few social, economic and political reasons in order to claim that humanity?” he asked. “So few political resources. So few economic, educational resources to articulate the humanity. How do they still claim, and be able to see something more than what the world says about them? I think it’s in that culture and it’s in the faith that is inseparable from that culture. That’s why I call the blues secular spirituals. They are a kind of resource, a cultural and mysterious resource that enables a people to express their humanity even though they don’t have many resources intellectually and otherwise to express it. Baldwin only finished high school. Wright only the ninth grade. But he still had his say. And B.B. King never got out of grade school. And Louis Armstrong hardly went to school at all. Now, I said to myself, if Louis could blow a trumpet like that, forget it, I’m gonna write theology the way Louis Armstrong blows that trumpet. I want to reach down for those resources that enable people to express themselves when the world says that you have nothing to say.”
“People who resist create hope and love of humanity,” he said. “The civil rights was a mass movement, but a movement defined by love. You always have both sides. You have bad faith and good faith. I like to write about the good faith. I like to write about faith that resists. I like to write about faith that empowers. I like to write about faith that enables people to look another in the eye and tell ’em what you think. I remember growing up in Arkansas. There were a lot of masks. I wore a mask in Arkansas as a child, not in my own community but when I went down to the white people’s town. I knew what they could do to you. But I kept saying to myself ‘one of these days I’m gonna say what I think to white people and make up for lost time,’ and so the last 40-something years that’s what I been doing. I write to encourage African-Americans to have that inner resource in order to have your say and to say it as clearly, as forcefully, and as truthfully as you can. Not all would be able to do that ’cause white people have a lot of power.”
“Now white churches are empty Christ churches,” he said. “They ain’t the real thing. They just lovin’ each other. That’s all, that’s all that is: socializin’ with each other, that’s what they do most of the time. You seldom go to a church that has any diversity to it. Now how can that be Christian? God was in Christ reconciling the world unto God’s self. Well, it’s in white churches that God and Christ separated us from white people. That’s what they say. And I’m sayin’ as long as you are silent and say nothin’ about it, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, say nothin’, you are just as guilty as the one who hung him on the tree because you were silent just like Peter. Now if you are silent, you are guilty. If you are gonna worship somebody that was nailed to a tree, you must know that the life of a disciple of that person is not going to be easy. It will make you end up on that tree. And so in this sense, I just want to say that we have to take seriously the faith or else we will be the opposite of what it means.”
“My momma and daddy did not have my opportunity, so when I write and speak I try to write and speak for them,” he said. “They not here. They never had a chance to stand before white people and tell ’em what they think. I gotta do it somehow. I try to do that all over the world. I think of Lucy Cone and Charlie Cone, and of all the other Lucy Cones and Charlie Cones that’s out there who cannot speak. I think of them, I don’t think of myself, I think of them. It deepens my spirituality. It gives me something to hold on to, that I can feel and touch. It’s a very spiritual experience, because you are doin’ something for people you love who cannot and will never have a chance to speak in a context like this. So, why do I need to speak for myself? I need to speak for them. If you feel passion in my voice, you feel energy in this text, that’s because I was thinkin’ of Lucy and Charlie, my daddy, and my mama. And as long as I do that, I’ll stay on the right track.”