Tags: bagram, ben emmerson, desmond tutu, enemy combatant, england, Guantanamo, human rights, Moazzam Begg, muslim, racism, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, victoria brittain, war on terror, women
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Published on Tuesday, March 5, 2013 by TomDispatch.com
Once, as a reporter, I covered wars, conflicts, civil wars, and even a genocide in places like Vietnam, Angola, Eritrea, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, keeping away from official briefings and listening to the people who were living the war. In the years since the Bush administration launched its Global War on Terror, I’ve done the same thing without ever leaving home.
In the last decade, I didn’t travel to distant refugee camps in Pakistan or destroyed villages in Afghanistan, nor did I spend time in besieged cities like Iraq’s Fallujah or Libya’s Misrata. I stayed in Great Britain. There, my government, in close conjunction with Washington, was pursuing its own version of what, whether anyone cared to say it or not, was essentially a war against Islam. Somehow, by a series of chance events, I found myself inside it, spending time with families transformed into enemies.
I hadn’t planned to write about the war on terror, but driven by curiosity about lives most of us never see and a few lucky coincidences, I stumbled into a world of Muslim women in London, Manchester, and Birmingham. Some of them were British, others from Arab and African countries, but their husbands or sons had been swept up in Washington’s war. Some were in Guantanamo, some were among the dozen Muslim foreigners who did not know each other, and who were surprised to find themselves imprisoned together in Britain on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda. Later, some of these families would find themselves under house arrest.
In the process, I came to know women and children who were living in almost complete isolation and with the stigma of a supposed link to terrorism. They had few friends, and were cut off from the wider world. Those with a husband under house arrest were allowed no visitors who had not been vetted for “security,” nor could they have computers, even for their children to do their homework. Other lonely women had husbands or sons who had sometimes spent a decade or more in prison without charges in the United Kingdom, and were fighting deportation or extradition.
Gradually, they came to accept me into their isolated lives and talked to me about their children, their mothers, their childhoods — but seldom, at first, about the grim situations of their husbands, which seemed too intimate, too raw, too frightening, too unknowable to be put into words.
In the early years, it was a steep learning curve for me, spending time in homes where faith was the primary reality, Allah was constantly invoked, English was a second language, and privacy and reticence were givens. Facebook culture had not come to most of these families. The reticence faded over the years, especially when the children were not there, or in the face of the kind of desolation that came from a failed court appeal to lift the restrictions on their lives, an unexpected police raid on the house, a husband’s suicide attempt, or the coming of a new torture report from Washington’s then-expanding global gulag of black sites and, of course, Guantanamo.
In these years, I met some of their husbands and sons as well. The first was a British man from Birmingham, Moazzam Begg. He had been held for three years in Washington’s notorious offshore prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to be released without charges. When he came home, through his lawyer, he asked me to help write his memoir, the first to come out of Guantanamo. We worked long months on Enemy Combatant. It was hard for him to relive his nightmare days and nights in American custody in Kandahar and in the U.S. prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and then those limbo years in Cuba. It was even harder for him to visit the women whose absent husbands he had known in prison and who, unlike him, were still there.
Was My Husband Tortured?
In these homes he visited, there was always one great unspoken question: Was my husband or son tortured? It was the single question no one could bear to ask a survivor of that nightmare, even for reassurance. When working on his book, I deliberately left the chapter on his experiences in American hands in Bagram prison for last, as I sensed how difficult it would be for both of us to speak about the worst of the torture I knew he had experienced.
Through Moazzam, I met other men who had been swept up in the post-9/11 dragnet for Muslims in Great Britain, refugees who sought him out as an Arabic speaker and a British citizen to help them negotiate Britain’s newly hostile atmosphere in the post-9/11 years. Soon, I began to visit some of their wives, too.
In time, I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death unless he was given refugee documents to leave Britain, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.
I found myself deep inside a world of civilian women who were being warred upon (after a fashion) in my own country, which was how I came upon a locked-down hospital ward with a man determined to starve himself to death, children who cried in terror in response to a knock on the door, wives faced with a husband changed beyond words by prison.
I was halfway through working on Moazzam’s book when London was struck by our 9/11, which we call 7/7. The July 7, 2005, suicide bombings, in three parts of the London underground and a bus, killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700. The four bombers were all young British men between 18 and 30, two of them married with children, and one of them a mentor at a primary school. In video statements left behind they described themselves as “soldiers” whose aim was to force the British government to pull its troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Just three weeks later, there were four more coordinated bomb attacks on the London subway system. (All failed to detonate.) The four men responsible, longterm British residents originally from the Horn of Africa, were captured, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In this way, the whole country was traumatised in 2005, and that particularly includes the various strands of the Muslim community in Great Britain.
The British security services quickly returned to a post-9/11 stance on overdrive. The same MI5 intelligence agents who had interrogated Moazzam while he was in U.S. custody asked to meet him again to get his thoughts on who might be behind the attacks. However, three years in U.S. custody and five months at home occupied with his family and his book had not made him a likely source of information on current strains of thought in the British Muslim community.
At the same time, the dozen foreign Muslim refugees detained in the aftermath of 9/11 and held without trial for two years before being released on the orders of the House of Lords were rearrested. In the summer of 2005, the government prepared to deport them to countries they had originally fled as refugees.
All of them had been made anonymous by court order and in legal documents were referred to as Mr. G, Mr. U, and so on. This was no doubt intended to safeguard their privacy, but in a sense it also condemned them. It made them faceless, inhuman, and their families experienced it just that way. “They even took my husband’s name away, why?” one wife asked me.
The women I was meeting in these years were mostly from this small group, as well as the relatives of a handful of British residents — Arabs — who were not initially returned from Guantanamo with the nine British citizens that the Americans finally released without charges in 2004 and 2005.
Perhaps no one in the country was, in the end, more terrorised than them, thanks to the various terror plots by British nationals that followed. And they were right to be fearful. The pressure on them was overwhelming. Some of them simply gave up and went home voluntarily because they could not bear house arrest, though they risked being sent to prison in their native lands; others went through years of house arrest and court appeals against deportation, all of which continues to this day.
Among the plots that unnerved them were one in 2006 against transatlantic aircraft, for which a total of 12 Britons were jailed for life in 2009, and the 2007 attempt to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow International Airport, in which one bomber died and the second was jailed for 32 years. In the post-9/11 decade, 237 people were convicted of terror-related offences in Britain.
Though all of this was going on, much of it remained remote from the world of the refugee women I came to know who, in the larger world, were mainly preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that, with Palestinian developments, filled their TV screens tuned only to Arabic stations.
These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares, but for anyone in their company there was no mistaking them: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another, with several small children, turned back from a prison visit, despite a long journey, because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.
These women did not tend to dwell on their own private nightmares: a wife prevented from taking her baby into the hospital to visit her hunger-striking husband and get him to eat before he starved to death; another turned back from a prison visit because her husband was being punished that day; children whose toys were taken in a police raid and never given back; midnight visits from a private security company to check on a man already electronically tagged.
Here was the texture of a hidden war of continual harassment against a largely helpless population. This was how some of the most vulnerable people in British society — often already traumatised refugees and torture survivors — were made permanent scapegoats for our post-9/11, and then post-7/7 fears.
So powerful is the stigma of “terrorism” today that, in the name of “our security,” whether in Great Britain or the United States, just about anything now goes, and ever fewer people ask questions about what that “anything” might actually be. Here in London, repeated attempts to get influential religious or political figures simply to visit one of these officially locked-down families and see these lives for themselves have failed. In the present political climate, such a personal, fact-finding visit proved to be anything but a priority for such people.
A Legal System of Secret Evidence, House Arrest, and Financial Sanctions
Against this captive population, in such an anything-goes atmosphere, all sorts of experimental perversions of the legal system were tried out. As a result, the British system of post-9/11 justice contains many features which should frighten us all but are completely unfamiliar to the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom.
Key aspects for the families I have been concerned with include the use of secret evidence in cases involving deportation, bail conditions, and imprisonment without trial. In addition, most of their cases have been heard in a special court known as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission or SIAC, which is housed in an anonymous basement set of rooms in central London.
One of SIAC’s innovative features is the use of “special advocates,” senior barristers who have security clearance to see secret evidence on behalf of their clients, but without being allowed to disclose it or discuss it, even with the client or his or her own lawyer. The resignation on principle of a highly respected barrister, Ian Macdonald, as a special advocate in November 2004 exposed this process to the public for the first time — but almost no one took any interest.
And a sense of the injustice in this arcane system was never sufficiently sparked by such voices, which found little echo in the media. Nor was there a wide audience for reports from ateam of top psychiatrists about the devastating psychological impact on the men and their families of indefinite detention without trial, and of a house-arrest system framed by “control orders” that allow the government to place restrictions of almost any sort on the lives of those it designates.
An even less noted aspect of the anti-terror legal system brought into existence after 9/11 was the financial sanctions that could freeze the assets of designated individuals. First ordered by the United Nations, the financial-sanctions regime was consolidated here through a European Union list of designated people. The few lawyers who specialized in this area were scathing about the draconian measures involved and the utter lack of transparency when it came to which governments had put which names on which list.
The effect on the listed families was draconian. Marriages collapsed under the strain. The listed men were barred from working and only allowed £10 a week for personal expenses. Their wives — often from conservative cultures where all dealings with the outside world had been left to husbands — suddenly were the families’ faces to the world, responsible for everything from shopping to accounting monthly to the government’s Home Office for every item the family purchased, right down to a bottle of milk or a pencil for a child. It was humiliating for the men, who lost their family role overnight, and exhausting and frustrating for the women, while in some cases the rest of their families shunned them because of the taint of alleged terrorism. Almost no one except specialist lawyers even knew that such financial sanctions existed in Britain.
In the country’s High Court, the first judicial challenge to the financial-sanctions regime was brought in 2008 by five British Muslim men known only as G, K, A, M, and Q. In response, Justice Andrew Collins said he found it “totally unacceptable” that, to take an especially absurd example, a man should have to get a license for legal advice about the sanctions from the very body that was imposing them. The man in question had waited three months for a “basic expense” license permitting funds for food and rent, and six months for a license to obtain legal advice about the situation he found himself in.
In a related case before the judicial committee of the House of Lords, Justice Leonard Hoffman expressed incredulity at the “meanness and squalor” of a regime that “monitored who had what for lunch.” More recently, the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court endorsed the comments of Lord Justice Stephen Sedley who described those subject to the regime as being akin to “prisoners of the state.”
Among senior lawyers concerned about this hidden world of punishment was Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism. He devoted one of his official U.N. reports to the financial sanctions issue. His recommendations included significantly more transparency from governments who put people on such a list, the explicit exclusion of evidence obtained by torture, and the obligation of governments to give reasons when they refuse to remove individuals from the list. Of course, no one who mattered was paying the slightest attention.
Against ideological governments obsessed by terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic and a culture numbed by violent anti-terrorist tales like “24” and Zero Dark Thirty, such complicated and technical initiatives on behalf of individuals who have been given the tag, implicitly if not explicitly, of “terrorist” stand little chance of getting attention.
“Each Time It’s Worse”
Nearly a decade ago, at the New York opening night of Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, the play Gillian Slovo and I wrote using only the words of the relatives of prisoners in that jail, their lawyers, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, an elderly man approached Moazzam Begg’s father and me. He introduced himself as a former foreign policy adviser to President John Kennedy. “It could never have happened in our time,” he said.
When the Global War on Terror was still relatively new, it was common for audiences to react similarly and with shock to a play in which fathers and brothers describe their bewilderment over the way their relation had disappeared into the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In the years since, we have become numb to the destruction of lives, livelihoods, futures, childhoods, legal systems, and trust by Washington’s and London’s never-ending war on terror.
In that time, I have seen children grow from toddlers to teenagers locked inside this particular war machine. What they say today should startle us out of such numbness. Here, for instance, are the words of two teenagers, a girl and a boy whose fathers had been imprisoned or under house arrest in Britain for 10 years and whose lives in those same years were filled with indignities and humiliations:
“People seem to think that we get used to things being how they are for us, so we don’t feel the injustices so much now. They are quite wrong: it was painful the first time, more painful the second, even more so the third. In fact, each time it’s worse, if you can believe that. There isn’t a limit on how much pain you can feel.”
The boy added this:
“There is never one day when I feel safe. It can be the authorities, it can be ordinary people, they can do something bad for us. Only like now when we are all in the house together can I stop worrying about my mum and my sisters, and even me, what might happen to us. On the tube [subway], in class at university, people look at my beard. I see them looking and I know they are thinking bad things about me. I would like to be a normal guy who no one looks at. You know, other boys, some of my friends, they cut corners, things like driving without a current license, everyone does it. But I can’t, I can’t ever, ever, take even a small risk. I have to always be cautious, be responsible… for my family.”
These children have been brought up by women who, against all odds, have often preserved their dignity and kept at least a modicum of joy in their families’ lives, and so, however despised, however unnoticed, however locked away, made themselves an inspiration to others. They are not victims to be pitied, but women our societies should embrace.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s response to recent proposals that Washington establish a secret court to oversee the targeting of terrorist suspects for death-by-drone and President Obama’s expanding executive power to kill, speak for the world beyond the West. They offer a different perspective on the war on terror that Washington and Great Britain continue to pursue with no end in sight:
“Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the nineteenth century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it. I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.”
Victoria Brittain, journalist and former editor at the Guardian, has authored or co-authored two plays and four books, including Enemy Combatant with Moazzam Begg. Her latest book, Shadow Lives: The Forgotten Women of the War on Terror (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2013) has just been published.
You’re All Illegal February 6, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Immigration, Race, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, anti-immigration, dream act, First Nations, genocide, Immigration, native american, racism, roger hollander
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by Abby Zimet
WATCH THE VIDEO!!!
A bumper sticker being sold outside Milwaukee
Staging his own small, fierce, truth-telling protest, a Native-American man pushing a baby stroller confronted anti-immigration zealots at an Arizona rally by furiously pointing out that they are the real “illegals” for invading his country. Enough, he said, with their race-baiting, flag-waving “bogus arguments.” Meanwhile, young immigrants loudly interrupted a staid Congressional hearing on immigration, protesting GOP opposition to the DREAM Act by chanting, “Undocumented and Unafraid.” They were thrown out by security officials as legislators snickered.
“We didn’t invite none of you. We’re the only native Americans here,” he yelled. “That’s what (the American) flag stands for – all the Native Americans you killed to plant your houses here. That’s the truth.”
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.
White Power to the Rescue January 28, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in History, Race, Racism.
Tags: chris hedges, civil war, confederacy, fort pillow, history, ida b. wells, jacob burkle, janis fullilove, jefferson davis, KKK, ku klux klan, memphis racism, nathan bedford forrest, oral history, racism, robert e. lee, roger hollander, slavery, slaves, underground railroad, white supremecy
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On a windy afternoon a few days ago I went to a depressed section of North Memphis to visit an old clapboard house that was once owned by a German immigrant named Jacob Burkle. Oral history—and oral history is all anyone has in this case since no written
(Illustration: Mr. Fish)
documents survive—holds that Burkle used his house as a stop on the underground railroad for escaped slaves in the decade before the Civil War. The house is now a small museum called Slave Haven. It has artifacts such as leg irons, iron collars and broadsheets advertising the sale of men, women and children. In the gray floor of the porch there is a trapdoor that leads to a long crawl space and a jagged hole in a brick cellar wall where fugitives could have pushed themselves down into the basement. Escaped slaves were purportedly guided by Burkle at night down a tunnel or trench toward the nearby Mississippi River and turned over to sympathetic river traders who took them north to Cairo, Ill., and on to freedom in Canada.
Burkle and his descendants had good reason to avoid written records and to keep their activities secret. Memphis, on the eve of the Civil War, was one of the biggest slave markets in the South. After the war the city was an epicenter for Ku Klux Klan terror that included lynching, the nighttime burning of black churches and schools and the killing of black leaders and their white supporters, atrocities that continued into the 20th century. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. If word had gotten out that Burkle used his home to help slaves escape, the structure would almost certainly have been burned and Burkle or his descendants, at the very least, driven out of the city. The story of Burkle’s aid to slaves fleeing bondage became public knowledge only a couple of decades ago.
The modest public profile of the Burkle house stands in stunning contrast with the monument in the center of Memphis to native son Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, who is buried in Forrest Park under a statue of himself in his Confederate general’s uniform and mounted on a horse, is one of the most odious figures in American history. A moody, barely literate, violent man—he was not averse to shooting his own troops if he deemed them to be cowards—he became a millionaire before the war as a slave trader. As a Confederate general he was noted for moronic aphorisms such as “War means fighting and fighting means killing.” He was, even by the accounts of those who served under him, a butcher. He led a massacre at Fort Pillow in Henning, Tenn., of some 300 black Union troops—who had surrendered and put down their weapons—as well as women and children who had sheltered in the fort. Forrest was, after the war, the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He used his skills as a former cavalry commander to lead armed night raids to terrorize blacks.
Forrest, like many other white racists of the antebellum South, is enjoying a disquieting renaissance. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the West Tennessee Historical Commission last summer put up a 1,000-pound granite marker at the entrance to the park that read “Forrest Park.” The city, saying the groups had not obtained a permit, removed it with a crane. A dispute over the park name, now raging in the Memphis City Council, exposes the deep divide in Memphis and throughout much of the South between those who laud the Confederacy and those who detest it, a split that runs like a wide fault down racial lines.
A call last week by Memphis City Councilwoman Janis Fullilove, who is African-American, to strip Forrest’s name from the park and rename it after the crusading black journalist Ida B. Wells set off such an acrimonious debate between her and some white council members that Fullilove left a meeting in tears.
Wells was one of the nation’s most courageous and important journalists. She moved to Memphis as a young woman to live with her aunt. Her investigations revealed that lynching was fundamentally a mechanism to rid white businessmen of black competitors. When Thomas Moss of Memphis, a black man who ran the People’s Grocery Co., was murdered with his partners by a mob of whites and his store was looted and destroyed, Wells was incensed. “This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was,” she wrote. She noted “that the Southerner had never gotten over this resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income” and was using charges of rape against black business owners to mask this resentment. The lynching of Moss, she wrote, was “[a]n excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized and ‘keep the nigger down.’ ”
Her newspaper, Free Speech, which railed against white mob violence, the inadequate black schools, segregation, discrimination and a corrupt legal system that denied justice to blacks, was destroyed by whites. Wells was forced to flee the city, becoming, as she wrote, “an exile from home for hinting at the truth.”
The split between those in Memphis who hold up authentic heroes—those who fought to protect, defend and preserve life, such as Wells and Burkle—and those who memorialize slave traders and bigots such as Forrest points up a disturbing rise of a neo-Confederate ideology in the South. Honoring figures like Forrest in Memphis while ignoring Wells would be like erecting a statue to the Nazi death camp commander Amon Goeth in the Czech Republic town of Svitavy, the birthplace of Oskar Schindler, who rescued 1,200 Jews.
The rewriting of history in the South is a retreat by beleaguered whites into a mythical self-glorification. I witnessed a similar retreat during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia’s economy deteriorated, ethnic groups built fantasies of a glorious past that became a substitute for history. They sought to remove, through exclusion and finally violence, competing ethnicities to restore this mythological past. The embrace by nationalist groups of a nonreality-based belief system made communication with other ethnic groups impossible. They no longer spoke the same cultural language. There was no common historical narrative built around verifiable truth. A similar disconnect was illustrated last week in Memphis when the chairman of the city’s parks committee, William Boyd, informed the council that Forrest “promoted progress for black people in this country after the war.” Boyd argued that the KKK was “more of a social club” at its inception and didn’t begin carrying out “bad and horrific things” until it reconstituted itself with the rise of the modern civil rights movement.
“Lord, have mercy,” Fullilove muttered as she listened.
But Forrest is only one of numerous flashpoints. Fliers reading “Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Wants You to Join” appeared in the mailboxes of white families in Memphis in early January. The Ku Klux Klan also distributed pamphlets a few days ago in an Atlanta suburb. The Tennessee Legislature last year officially declared July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day to honor his birthday. There are 32 historical markers honoring Forrest in Tennessee alone and several in other Southern states. Montgomery, Ala., which I visited last fall, has a gigantic Confederate flag on the outskirts of the city, planted there by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Confederate monuments dot Montgomery’s city center. There are three Confederate state holidays in Alabama, including Martin Luther King/Robert E. Lee Day. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi also honor Lee’s birthday. Jefferson Davis’ birthday is a state holiday in Alabama and Florida. And re-enactments of Confederate victories in the Civil War crowd Southern calendars.
The steady rise of ethnic nationalism over the past decade, the replacing of history with mendacious and sanitized versions of lost glory, is part of the moral decay that infects a dying culture. It is a frightening attempt, by those who are desperate and trapped, to escape through invented history their despair, impoverishment and hopelessness. It breeds intolerance and eventually violence. Violence becomes in this perverted belief system a cleansing agent, a way to restore a lost world. There are ample historical records that disprove the myths espoused by the neo-Confederates, who insist the Civil War was not about slavery but states’ rights and the protection of traditional Christianity. But these records are useless in puncturing their self-delusion, just as documentary evidence does nothing to blunt the self-delusion of Holocaust deniers. Those who retreat into fantasy cannot be engaged in rational discussion, for fantasy is all that is left of their tattered self-esteem. When their myths are attacked as untrue it triggers not a discussion of facts and evidence but a ferocious emotional backlash. The challenge of the myth threatens what is left of hope. And as the economy unravels, as the future looks bleaker and bleaker, this terrifying myth gains potency.
Achilles V. Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee Cavalry under Forrest during the 1864 massacre at Fort Pillow, wrote to his sister after the attack: “The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. … I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”
The Real And Racist Origins of the Second Amendment December 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Gun Control/Violence, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: 2nd amendment, bill of rights, bruce dixon, constitution, edmund morgan, founding fathers, genocide, gun control, gun culture, history, indian killing, racism, right to bear arms, roger hollander, second amendment, slavery
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The “well-regulated militia” that the US Constitution’s second amendment refers to were slave patrols, land stealers and Indian killers, all quite necessary as the amendment’s language states “to the security of a free state” built with stolen labor upon stolen land. Unless and until we acknowledge that history, we cannot have an honest discussion about gun control.
The Real and Racist Origins of the Second Amendment
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
This commentary was originally published in Black Agenda Report April 19, 2008.
Why does the US Constitution guarantee a right “to keep and bear arms”? Why not the right to vote, the right to a quality education, health care, a clean environment or a job? What was so important in early America about the right of citizens to have guns? And is it even possible to have an honest discussion about gun control without acknowledging the racist origins of the Second Amendment?
The dominant trend among legal scholars, and on the current Supreme Court is that we are bound by the original intent of the Constitution’s authors. Here’s what the second amendment to the Constitution says:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
Clearly its authors aimed to guarantee the right to a gun for every free white man in their new country. What’s no longer evident 230 years later, is why. The answer, advanced by historian Edmund Morgan in his classic work, American Slavery, American Freedom, the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, sheds useful light on the historic and current politics and self-image of our nation.
Colonial America and the early US was a very unequal place. All the good, cleared, level agricultural land with easy access to transport was owned by a very few, very wealthy white men. Many poor whites were brought over as indentured servants, but having completed their periods of forced labor, allowing them to hang around the towns and cities landless and unemployed was dangerous to the social order. So they were given guns and credit, and sent inland to make their own fortunes, encroaching upon the orchards, farms and hunting grounds of Native Americans, who had little or no access to firearms. The law, of course did not penalize white men who robbed, raped or killed Indians. At regular intervals, colonial governors and local US officials would muster the free armed white men as militia, and dispatch them in murderous punitive raids to make the frontier safer for settlers and land speculators.
Slavery remained legal in New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic region till well into the 1800s, and the movements of free blacks and Indians were severely restricted for decades afterward. So colonial and early American militia also prowled the roads and highways demanding the passes of all non-whites, to ensure the enslaved were not escaping or aiding those who were, and that free blacks were not plotting rebellion or traveling for unapproved reasons.
Historically then, the principal activities of the Founding Fathers’ “well regulated militia” were Indian killing, land stealing, slave patrolling and the enforcement of domestic apartheid, all of these, as the Constitutional language declares “being necessary to the security of a free state.” A free state whose fundamental building blocks were the genocide of Native Americans, and the enslavement of Africans.
The Constitutional sanction of universally armed white men against blacks and Indians is at the origin of what has come to be known as America’s “gun culture,” and it neatly explains why that culture remains most deeply rooted in white, rural and small-town America long after the end of slavery and the close of the frontier. With the genocide of Native Americans accomplished and slavery gone, America’s gun culture wrapped itself in new clothing, in self-justifying mythology that construes the Second Amendment as arming the citizenry as final bulwark of freedom against tyranny, invasion or crime. Embracing this fake history of the Second Amendments warps legal scholarship and public debate in clouds of willful ignorance, encouraging us to believe this is a nation founded on just and egalitarian principles rather than one built with stolen labor on stolen land.
Maybe this is how we can tell that we are finally so over all that nasty genocide and racism stuff. We’ve chosen to simply write it out of our history.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works in Marietta GA and can be reached via this site’s contact page or at email@example.com.
Continuing in struggle: New images and statements from WORD! November 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Racism, Women.
Tags: bigotry, lgbt, Palestine, racism, roger hollander, shirley chisholm, women, women's rights
|Please share this graphic widely|
In honor of Shirley Chisholm Day, WORD is circulating the above graphic on social media. We celebrate Chisholm’s contributions to the struggle for women’s reproductive rights, health and justice, and honor her pioneering role as a woman of color in U.S. politics. Please continue to share this image widely.
WORD – Women Organized to Resist and Defend – was formed by longtime activists from a number of struggles. Our commitment to those struggles continues as we move forward in the struggle to defend women’s rights.
We are dedicated to fighting racism, sexism and anti-LGBT bigotry. We believe strongly that an injury to one is an injury to all, and our involvement in the continuing struggles of oppressed people across the United States continues.
The most recent WORD statement addresses the consequences of denying abortions to women who need them:
The life of a child is precious. The life of a woman is equally precious. The quality of life for both are stifled by politicians who continually gut public health programs, education, and access to safe, affordable housing.
|WORD at the Bay Area Families March Against Police Brutality|
In the San Francisco Bay Area, WORD joined the Bay Area Families March Against Police Brutality in Oakland, California, to demand an end to racist police brutality in our communities.
WORD Los Angeles joined Justice for Filipino-American Veterans (JFAV) for a march in Los Angeles. WORD supports JFAV in demanding full equity for Filipino-American veterans, and we stand in support of the widows and family members who have been denied compensation and benefits for more than 66 years.
Across the country, WORD has joined demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people and against U.S. aid to Israel throughout Israel’s eight-day bombing of Gaza.
WORD will continue to stand with the Palestinian people now that a ceasefire has been reached. Please read and share our statement condemning the attacks:
We believe that the issue of war is an issue of women’s rights too. As women, children and their families suffer the indignation of occupation, as they are killed and maimed by weaponry paid for by U.S. tax dollars, we call on everyone to join in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
We need your support to continue our efforts in building the struggle for women’s rights across the United States. Can you make a small donation? Any donation is appreciated, and every cent goes directly to literature and other resources for the struggle. Thank you for your continuing support.
Buchanan: ‘White America’ Died Last Night November 16, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Racism.
Tags: anti-semitism, nativism, pat buchanan, racism, roger hollander, white supremecy
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Roger’s note: my dear friend Liz who passed this on to me first thought it must be an Andy Borowitz parody (apparently not). I responded to her that such views coming from someone who has been taken seriously by the mainstream media and who held a responsible position under a US president (and was at one time considered a serious Republican presidential nominee himself), is an indication of how far large segments of the country — including established media – have regressed into good old apple pie American racism. I always strive to never blame the victim, so I would not attack the countless millions who voted for Romney, but the forces behind him and the nut case billionaires are not to be discounted simply because they lost this election. Also keep in mind, that Obama reacts to the ultra right pressures, and his policies, mostly foreign but also much of domestic, are really Republican inspired.
Nov. 07, 2012, The Daily Current
Conservative political pundit Pat Buchanan stoked controversy today by claiming that Barack Obama’s reelection has ‘killed White America’.
The paleoconservative nativist is no stranger to racial controversy, having previously been accused of writing books with racist and anti-semitic undertones.
But the former Nixon advisor was more explicit on the G. Gordon Liddy Show this morning. When asked for his reaction to Obama’s victory, Buchanan replied brazenly:
“White America died last night. Obama’s reelection killed it. Our 200 plus year history as a Western nation is over. We’re a Socialist Latin American country now. Venezuela without the oil.”
Stunned by his clear racisim, Liddy tried to walk his guest back from the ledge:
“With what you just said right there…You seem to imply that white people are better than other people. That’s not really what you’re saying is it?”
“Of course that’s what I’m saying,” Buchanan replied “Isn’t it obvious? Anything worth doing on this Earth was done first by white people.”
“Who landed on the moon? White people. Who climbed Mount Everest? White people. Who invented the transistor? White people. Who invented paper? White people. Who discovered algebra? White people.”
“And don’t give me all this nonsense about Martin Luther King and civil rights and all that. Who do you think freed the slaves? Abraham Lincoln. A white guy!”
“But we’re not led by Lincoln anymore, we’re led by an affirmative-action mulatto who can’t physically understand how great America once was.”
“I cried last night G. I cried for hours. It’s over for all of us. The great White nation will never survive another 4 years of Obama’s leadership”
Liddy tried to reason with Buchanan, reminding him that he shares similar positions with the President on Afghanistan, Iraq, and relations with Russia:
“Of course I agree with half of what he does,” Buchanan answered, “He’s half white! That’s not the half I’m worried about.”
Buchanan served as a speechwriter in the Nixon White House. He was fired as an MSNBC analyst this year following the publication of a book many considered to be racist.
The Strange Story Of The Man Behind ‘Strange Fruit’ September 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: abel meeropol, anne meeropol, billie holiday, Civil Rights, communist party, dewitt clinton high, elizabeth blair, history, lewis allan, lynching, McCarthyism, michael meeropol, racism, robert meeropol, roger hollander, rosenberg fund, rosenbergs, strange fruit
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September 5, 2012
Courtesy of Robert and Michael Meeropol
Abel Meeropol watches as his sons, Robert and Michael, play with a train set.
September 5, 2012
One of Billie Holiday’s most iconic songs is “Strange Fruit,” a haunting protest against the inhumanity of racism. Many people know that the man who wrote the song was inspired by a photograph of a lynching. But they might not realize that he’s also tied to another watershed moment in America’s history.
The man behind “Strange Fruit” is New York City’s Abel Meeropol, and he really has two stories. They both begin at Dewitt Clinton High School, a public high school in the Bronx that has an astonishing number of famous people in its alumni. James Baldwin went there. So did Countee Cullen, Richard Rodgers, Burt Lancaster, Stan Lee, Neil Simon, Richard Avedon and Ralph Lauren.
Meeropol graduated from Dewitt Clinton in 1921; he went on to teach English there for 17 years. He was also a poet and a social activist, says Gerard Pelisson, who wrote a book about the school.
In the late 1930s, Pellison says, Meeropol “was very disturbed at the continuation of racism in America, and seeing a photograph of a lynching sort of put him over the edge.”
Meeropol once said the photograph “haunted” him “for days.” So he wrote a poem about it, which was then printed in a teachers union publication. An amateur composer, Meeropol also set his words to music. He played it for a New York club owner — who ultimately gave it to Billie Holiday.
When Holiday decided to sing “Strange Fruit,” the song reached millions of people. While the lyrics never mention lynching, the metaphor is painfully clear:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,Here is a strange and bitter crop.
In 1999, Time magazine named “Strange Fruit” the “song of the century.” The Library of Congress put it in the National Recording Registry. It’s been recorded dozens of times. Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller did an instrumental version, with Miller evoking the poem on his mournful bass clarinet.
Miller says he was surprised to learn the song was written by a white Jewish guy from the Bronx. “Strange Fruit,” he says, took extraordinary courage both for Meeropol to write and for Holiday to sing.
“The ’60s hadn’t happened yet,” he says. “Things like that weren’t talked about. They certainly weren’t sung about.”
New York lawmakers didn’t like “Strange Fruit.” In 1940, Meeropol was called to testify before a committee investigating communism in public schools. They wanted to know whether the American Communist Party had paid him to write the song. They had not — but, like many New York teachers in his day, Meeropol was a Communist.
Journalist David Margolick, who wrote Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song, says, “There are a million reasons to disparage communism now. But American Communism, one point it had in its favor was that it was concerned about civil rights very early.”
Meeropol left his teaching job at Dewitt Clinton in 1945. He eventually quit the Communist Party.
And that’s where the second part of Meeropol’s story begins. The link is the pseudonym he used when writing poetry and music: Lewis Allan.
“Abel Meeropol’s pen name ‘Lewis Allan’ were the names of their children who were stillborn, who never lived,” says his son, Robert Meeropol. He and his older brother, Michael, were raised by Abel and his wife, Anne Meeropol, after the boys’ parents — Ethel and Julius Rosenberg — were executed for espionage in 1953.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were sentenced to death for conspiring to give atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs had also been Communists.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are taken to prison after being found guilty of nuclear espionage. They were subsequently executed.
The couple’s trial and execution made national headlines, and there was also something of a salacious element, given that the Rosenbergs were a married couple. News accounts described it as “the first husband and wife to die in the electric chair.”
At the time, the Rosenberg sons, Robert and Michael, were 6 and 10, respectively. News photographs of the boys show them dressed in suits visiting their parents in prison.
“They’re these little boys and they’re wearing these caps, and they look so young and so vulnerable. It’s really a very poignant image,” says Margolick.
Robert Meeropol says that in the months following his parents’ execution, it was unclear who would take care of him and his brother. It was the height of McCarthyism. Even family members were fearful of being in any way associated with the Rosenbergs or Communism.
Then, at a Christmas party at the home of W.E.B. Du Bois, the boys were introduced to Abel and Anne Meeropol. A few weeks later, they were living with them.
“One of the most remarkable things was how quickly we adapted,” Robert says. “First of all, Abel, what I remember about him as a 6-year-old was that he was a real jokester. He liked to tell silly jokes and play word games, and he would put on these comedy shows that would leave me rolling.”
There is something else about Abel Meeropol that seems to connect the man who wrote “Strange Fruit” to the man who created a loving family out of a national scandal. “He was incredibly softhearted,” Robert says.
Courtesy of Robert and Michael Meeropol
Anne Meeropol plays a song on guitar for her sons, Robert and Michael.
For example, there was an old Japanese maple tree in their backyard, which sent out many new seedlings every year.
“I was the official lawnmower,” Robert says, “and I was going to mow over them, and he said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t kill the seedlings!’ I said, ‘What are you going to do with them, Dad? There are dozens of them.’
“Well, he dug them up and put them in coffee cans and lined them up along the side of the house. And there were hundreds of them. But he couldn’t bring himself to just kill them. It was just something he couldn’t do.”
Abel Meeropol died in 1986. His sons, Robert and Michael, both became college professors. They’re also both involved in social issues. Robert founded the Rosenberg Fund for Children. And he says that even after all these years, he still finds himself unable to kill things in his own garden.
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