You can hear Cliff on WRFG 89.3 FM on the Just Peace show, Monday's at 6pm:
You can also listen and/or call into Cliff's Blog Talk Radio show at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Obama's Speech Betrays an Important Legacy

I was actually asleep when a friend called me and told me to turn on President Obama’s acceptance speech the other day. She was troubled by his remarks, and after a few minutes, I understood why. To be sure, it was a well prepared, well delivered speech. Nevertheless, the substance of the speech was troubling to those of us who feel that a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech ought to be an occasion to talk about… what’s the word… peace.

President Obama’s speech, which has been almost universally recognized as a justification for war, has won praise from conservatives such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. I’ve even heard that former Vice President Cheney has declared a one-week verbal truce in honor of Obama’s ode to warfare.

To a large extent, the speech was simply a function of his job description. As he reminded us, he is the Commander in Chief of the United States, and at the end of the day, that position is going to shape his global perspective more than his global perspective is going to shape that position. It’s the same position that Lyndon B. Johnson held when Dr. Martin Luther King stated that America was “the greatest purveyor of violence anywhere in the world.” Nevertheless, was Oslo really the most appropriate venue for a “just war” treatise, and was it really necessary to dedicate two thirds of his speech to it?

Of course, President Obama’s speech was not only about justifying war. He managed to throw in just enough paragraphs to keep at least some progressives happy. For example, he had several lines talking about letting “our faith in human progress” guide us, and about how we should reach for “that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.” You can’t really argue with any of that.

However, a speech that began with justifying war and ended with humanity’s search for peace could have had a meaningful sweet spot in the middle. President Obama could have more adequately acknowledged that in between his concept of a just war and the concept of world peace, there’s a whole lot of space for some very real, very pragmatic alternatives to war. Yes, he briefly addressed alternatives to violence and the need for international development, but does he really feel that such a discussion is only worth two minutes?

By minimizing the very hard and real possibilities of negotiating peace, President Obama betrayed the legacies of two of his more relevant Nobel predecessors: Dr. Ralph Bunche and Dr. King. It was not romantic idealism that guided Ralph Bunche in 1948 as he worked to end the armed conflict in Palestine. After several months, Dr. Bunche was able to negotiate a series of armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors, and his efforts earned him the 1950 Nobel Prize. Like President Obama, Dr. Bunche understood that the world was a complicated place, but that did not stop him from believing that war could be avoided.

Years later, Dr. King would receive the Nobel Prize for a different form of negotiation. The Civil Rights Movement, which obviously was bigger than just Dr. King, and which relied on thousands of unsung heroes and sheroes, was not just about getting beat up and thrown in jail. Fundamentally, it was about using whatever power you have in order to force your enemy to negotiate, even when that power is limited to your faith, your morality and your bodies.

Contrary to the dichotomy that President Obama tried to impose during his speech, the question is not whether non-violent marches and sit-ins are enough to solve all of the conflicts in the world today. After all, President Obama has far more power and far more non-violent options at his disposal than the freedom fighters of the Civil Rights Movement had. Thus, the more appropriate question is whether leaders of the world in general, and President Obama in particular, are as committed to fully exploring non-violent options before embarking on war.

Coincidentally, although he has yet to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Rev. Jesse Jackson has also demonstrated the power of negotiation globally. Over the years, Jesse has managed to obtain the release of hostages from Syria, Cuba, Iraq and Yugoslavia, and he was able to do so with no weapon other than his legitimate voice as an emissary for peace.

Thus, African-Americans have a history of championing non-violence and negotiation on the world stage. True enough, Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice have damaged that legacy in recent years, but in Oslo, President Obama could have done much to help restore order to the universe.

Instead of just reminding us rhetorically that he is “someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work” and that he is a “living testimony to the moral force of non-violence,” Obama could have presented a new vision for incorporating that moral force into today’s complicated matters of international relations. In short, Obama could have elevated diplomacy from the depths of “appeasement” and bureaucratic irrelevance to the heights of being a force for change in today’s real world.

In doing so, not only would Obama have been true to Dr. King’s beliefs, but he would have been true to his own beliefs as well—beliefs that he expressed during the presidential election campaign. Certainly we all remember Candidate Obama’s statements about being willing to talk with world leaders with whom the United States has serious disagreements. And much of his criticism about the Iraq War centered around his belief that diplomacy was not given enough time to work its course.

As a presidential candidate, Obama could only float ideas about what he might do, but now, as President, Obama can actually implement his ideas. And Thursday, as a Nobel Prize winner, the President could have used the world stage he was provided in order to elaborate on those ideas. He could have used his thirty six minutes to outline a new paradigm of diplomacy. Being the student of history that he is, he could have outlined the most important examples of diplomacy that have worked, and then he could have challenged the world’s leaders, friends and foes, to renew their commitment to such efforts. In short, Obama could have raised the bar.

Instead, he used the world’s most respected peace forum as a platform from which to outline an Obama Doctrine that sounds a heck of a lot like the Bush Doctrine. In doing so, he failed to demonstrate much change, and whatever hope he provided has been relegated to idealism. Of course, he still has at least three years to demonstrate with his actions what he was unwilling to express with his words. Hopefully, during that time, the Nobel Prize sitting in his office will be a constant reminder to reject “the ‘isness’ of man’s current nature” and to seek out “the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.”

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Letter to Tiger Woods

On a FAR less serious note than my usual, a friend posted this on Facebook...

Dear Tiger:

Over the course of the next few weeks, several women will come forward and accuse you of cheating on your wife with them. While we cannot speak for your spouse, we are willing to forgive you provided that at least one of these women proves to be no less than 75% African-American. That small step is all that is required to gain our trust.

The Black Community

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Will the Senate forget to discuss health care AND race?

Exciting news: just had my most recent article picked up by the Huffington Post (thanks to the crew at the Race-Talk blog)!

An excerpt of the article is below, but please visit the
HuffPost for the full piece. And please leave a comment; it will help me and other Race-Talk writers to get extra exposure.

As the battle over health care reform hits the Senate floor for debate, I’m wondering how long it’s going to take for the issue of race to pop up.

Oh, it won’t show itself as blatantly as it has at town hall meetings and conservative rallies. I hardly expect one of the Senators to set up an easel with one of those pictures of President Obama dressed as a witch doctor. No, it will be far more subtle than that. Instead of shouted, race is likely to be whispered and alluded to in the form of comments about “those people” who take advantage of big government and who make it harder for the good, tax paying Americans. You know “those people”—they’re the same ones who hang out with the welfare queens, standing on the corner eating candy bars that they purchased with their fraudulently obtained food stamps.

Possibly, race may show up in a slightly more direct way, perhaps in relationship to health coverage for immigrants. Remember, that’s the same issue that propelled Rep. Joe Wilson into stardom after he called the president a liar.

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how race will show up, but I promise you, it will. The only question is whether or not we’ll have the courage to actually talk about it. Judging from the reaction to Jimmy Carter’s comments—comments that correctly pointed out the role of race in the vitriolic opposition to health care reform—my guess is we’ll be neither willing nor able to discuss the issue.

Of course, I’ve been saying Carter was correct ever since he made the comments, but until recently I haven’t had any actual data to support that belief, other than the common sense that God gave me. But thanks to professors Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler, that’s no longer the case...

Click here for full article.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Free Eric Johnson!

Eric Johnson recently graduated from Creekside High School as an honor student and member of the Beta Club. He has been working the past few months in order to help support his mother and had plans of attending Westwood College in January. Ever since his father died three years ago in a tragic house fire accident, Eric has faced adversity and has overcome numerous life obstacles to become a successful young man--at least until now. Eric Johnson has been arrested for a crime he had no part in or knowledge of.

The following are just a few facts related to the case. A more detailed statement of facts can be found in this article.

On Monday night, August 17, 2009, Eric Johnson was asked by Antoine Wimes to give him a ride in exchange for "gas money." Eric picked up Antoine Wimes and another young man that he met for the first time named "Dino." He drove them to a gas station, brought gas and then took them further down South Fulton Parkway and dropped them off. Later that evening, Antoine Wimes and Donavon McCoy are alleged to have shot "Nikki" Neely and seriously injured her 10-month-old baby in a vicious and senseless home invasion. On August 18, 2009, after seeing the news reports of this horrific attack, Eric A. Johnson called 911 and reported to police that he had "given a ride" to the suspects earlier in the evening.

1. Eric Johnson voluntarily contacted the police in order to provide information regarding the murder suspects (it would make absolutely no sense for him to do so if he were involved in the murder);

2. There is an independent witness, Virginia Bonylan, who has confirmed that Eric Johnson was not with the two suspects later in the evening after dropping them off;

3. There are alibi witnesses that Eric Johnson was home well before dark on August 17, 2009; and

4. The lead detective, Jamie Melton, has admitted that he has no evidence that Eric A. Johnson was present at the time of the shooting or that he knew that Antoine Wimes and Donovan McCoy intended on committing any crime.

The video below includes a police officer verifying the undisputed fact that Eric contacted the police in order to help solve the crime.

Nevertheless, Eric Johnson is charged with multiple felonies including: 2 counts of Aggravated Battery, Armed Robbery, Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon, and Cruelty to Children.

Now I'm not usually one to offer the police advice on how to do their job, but just this one time I'll offer my two cents: If you really want the community to help you stop crime, perhaps it's not such a good idea to arrest them after they help you.

I don't know... I'm just sayin'...


The family is asking for support in their fight for Eric Johnson's release. Attorney Mawuli ‘Mel' Davis, one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the state of Georgia, believes in Eric's innocence so strongly that he has offered his service for free. Nevertheless, the family still needs $5,000.00 to post bond as well as to pay for transcripts that will be associated with the case. If just 200 people donate $25, they can reach their goal!

Donations are being accepted online at

If you're not able to a donation, then please, please visit and sign the online petition. It will only take 2 minutes of your time.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Princess, the Frog, and the Pitfalls of Being Too Black

Some critics of my radio shows and articles often complain that i make everything into a racial issue. Well, i'm sure they'll love this one.

Alot of folks are aware by now that the new Disney movie, "The Princess and the Frog", features Disney's first Black princess, Tiana, and some have noted Disney's efforts to be culturally sensitive. But in all the excitement about the princess, knowbody really thought to ask, "Wassup with the prince?"

In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven't seen the movie, but based on a recent article in Newsweek, "Prince Naveen has a tannish complexion, but he clearly isn't African-American." The writer goes on to say that this is a good thing, because it sends a positive message about inter-racial dating and that Black women in particular need to consider such options.

Here's the deal. I have no problem, in theory, with Disney sending a message about inter-racial relationships, but i must say, i DO question the timing. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin all dealt with crossing boundaries of difference, whether beauty or, in the case of Aladdin, even class. But at the end of the day, Disney has always chosen to be ethnically consistent.

I would have loved to see audience reaction to Beauty and the Beast if, after waiting the entire movie for the Beast to be transformed, the Beast turned into an African prince. I imagine some folks in the theater would have wanted the prince to turn back into the Beast. But alas, Disney chose not to go that route.

Coincidentally, Disney's first Native American heroine, Pocahantas, was also involved in an inter-racial relationship, but at least then they were able to hide behind the historical basis of the story. And yet now, with a purely fictional Princes Tiana, we see the same pattern.

Let me make it more plain. Why it gotta be the sista princess to become the inter-racial poster child?

On one hand, i could limit this commentary to the specific issue of inter-racial relationships in the movies and television. There are some interesting sub-plots there, particularly as it relates to the trend of Black female/White male vs. Black male/White female. As early Captain Kirk and Uhura's kiss, through Whitney and "The Bodyguard" and as recent as "Something New", America has always been more comfortable with Black women dating White men. Of course, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is a highly notable exception, but you get the picture.

Nevertheless, the issue i'm trying to get at goes beyond the narrow issue of inter-racial dating. The deeper message is that it's just not okay to be too Black, and that a little bit of White is necessary for legitimacy. Of course, this is not a new critique. For years, it's been observed that Black actors must have White co-stars in order to be marketable. Even after becoming a star on Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy had to go through a series of White co-stars (Nick Nolte, Dan Akroyd, etc.) before becoming viable on his own. And just last year, in an interview with Barbara Walters, Will Smith discussed the same issue.

Just last week we were reminded that even a little bit of Black can be too Black. While marketing the film "Couples Retreat" in the United Kingdom, the studio removed the two Black co-stars from the film's poster.

While many people, Black, White and other, will say that i'm just being overly sensitive about some stuff that's just supposed to be entertainment, the issue really goes beyond just entertainment. It's intertwined into the structures of American society, a society in which, as Brother Malcolm used to say, too Black often translates into too strong.

We see the reality of "too Black, too strong" every day. We see it in business settings, and even government offices, where having one Black manager is viewed as safe, but having anything more than that is viewed as overkill.

We see it in election campaigns, particularly when Black candidates are running for statewide offices. One Black candidate seeking one such office is sometimes non-threatening enough to minimize race as an issue, but two Black candidates seeking two separate seats can elevate the issue and create a backlash, resulting in not just one loss, but two. It’s an interesting pattern which could be the topic of a whole separate article…

In fact, i think i will write a whole separate article, so you’ll just have to check back here for more info on that some other time.

In any event, more important than the ways “too Black, too strong” is used to limit individual appointments, are the ways it is used to limit efforts to correct racial disparities. Programs that use racial targeting in order to correct the ills of structural racism are not only wildly unpopular politically, but they’re also increasingly more difficult to maintain legally. It’s actually easier for a White plaintiff to win a discrimination case in U.S. courts than it is for a Black victim of discrimination. If you don’t believe me, go find a Black firefighter in New Haven.

With all that said, the power of the "too Black" concept can be defeated, but only if we have the courage to confront it in all its cultural, political and economic manifestations. Those of us who insist on such a structural analysis are often accused of making the problem worse by constantly playing the race card. Like a doctor who must explain a diagnosis of illness, it can be a heavy responsibility, but that is a burden we must accept. At the end of the day, the patient must hear the truth.

And the truth shall make you free.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pray for Obama?

I heard about this last night on Rachel Maddow's show. Evidently, there's a wave of bumper sticker, t-shirts, hats, etc. going around requesting that folks "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8". But before you go out and try to get one of these shirts, it's worth checking out what Psalm 109:8 says. The psalm reads, "Let his days be few; and let another take his office."

While some may say that this is just a humorous hope that Obama gets voted on of office in four years, the very next verse provides some insight into the true meaning of the prayer request. Psalm 109:9 reads, :Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."


This is not cute, and it is not funny. A recent book has already documented what most of us already know--that death threats agains President Obama are dramatically higher (about 5 times higher) than against Bush or any other President. The book says he receives 30 death threats per day.

Truth be told, these threats are obviously not just about President Obama. It's not just about his individual personality or his policies. It's a reminder of what the Supreme Court told us in the Dred Scott case more than 160 years ago: that a Black man has no rights that a White man is bound to respect. Evidently, this even applies to a Black President.

So in response to this prayer request, i'm going to come up with a few bible verses of my own to send to the 109:8 folks--like the promises to David that his enemies would be made to kneel before him.

Of course, i could also send them some New Testament verses talking about love and judgement, but right now i think i'm in an Old Testament kinda mood.

Or maybe i'll just send them a few African proverbs, like the Daily Lifeline sent on Facebook earlier today: The snake may let you pass the first time, but take care not to pass there again!

Either way, if you have a good verse that you think we need to send to these nuts, go on an leave a comment, or just send me an e-mail.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Black Veterans: A Complicated Past and Unsung Present

I was listening to Tom Joyner this morning, and his Little Known Black History Fact was about a regiment of Black soldiers known as the Harlem Hellfighters. They were the 369th Infantry Regiment, and they became legendary during World War I (WWI).

I’m assuming that Tom chose that history fact in honor of Veterans’ Day, a holiday about which I’ve always been torn. And while I recognize that there have been soldiers of all races and ethnicities, I’m going to use my prerogative to focus on the Black experience for a moment.

Black soldiers have fought in every war this country has fought, even before there was a “United States”. On the one hand, I recognize the need to honor those Black soldiers who have fought for the ideals of America, even when America was not just falling painfully short of those ideals, but actually being blatantly hypocritical towards those ideals (i.e. saving democracy in the world while denying the vote within its own borders). In fact, to begin with, the reason the Harlem Hellfighters were in Europe during WWI was because of racism back in South Carolina, and the reason they ended up assigned to the French army was because the U.S. would not give them combat roles. With backdrops like this, Black soldiers such as the Harlem Hellfighters and many others for centuries have done much to demonstrate Black courage and dignity.

But on the other hand, Black soldiers have too often participated in wars of aggression, greed and imperialism--wars which were often aimed at other people of color. From the Buffalo Soldiers and their battles with the Native Americans to the Philippines, from Vietnam to Panama and Grenada, Black soldiers have had to fight against folks that look like them for reasons that they must have known were, at best, questionable. In some cases, the irony of their predicament have caused Black soldiers to show compassion for their foes, while in other cases it did not seem to make a difference.

So clearly the experience of enlisted Black soldiers is part of why I’m torn about Veterans Day. But I’m also torn because of the experiences of Black veterans who weren’t actually enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. These are veterans of a different kind of war—the FBI’s war against Black America. In this war, the General was not Eisenhower or Macarthur; it was J. Edgar Hoover, and his primary targets were the Black Panthers. At the heart of this war was a Black Panther 10 Point Program which included a demand for universal health care.

Clearly such demands were a threat to democracy.

As a result of this war, many Panthers were locked away in jail for crimes they did not commit. Geronimo ji Jaga Pratt is one example who was able to eventually prove his innocence and get released from jail after 27 years—longer than the amount of time that Nelson Mandela was in prison. However, many were not quite as “fortunate” as Geronimo and are still languishing behind bars. This includes freedom fighters such as Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur and Jalil Muntaqim. By the way, Brother Jalil is going before the parole board in just a few days, so I encourage everyone reading this to learn about his history and send a support letter ASAP.

Other veterans of the FBI war were forced to flee the country and live in exile. Assata Shakur and Nehanda Abiodun are two of the better know exiles, but we should not get lulled into thinking that they are somehow safe from U.S. authorities that still have bounties on their heads.

Of course, not all the soldiers in the FBI’s war against Black America were able to survive. Many, like Fred Hampton in Chicago, were murdered. Jeffrey Haas was an attorney in Chicago at the time, and has authored a book called The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. For those of you in Atlanta who would like to learn more about Fred Hampton, Haas will be giving a lecture at Georgia State University, tomorrow (Thursday, Novermber 11th) from 5:30 to 7:30pm in the General Classroom Building, room 400 (corner of Peachtree Center Ave. and Decatur St.). I strongly encourage folks to attend.

No, it is not a simple thing, this Veterans Day. I don’t have all the answers, but i do know that it takes deeper thought than the knee-jerk reaction of wrapping ourselves in the red, white and blue the way the government and mainstream media wants us to. If that makes me unpatriotic, so be it.

I’ll be in good company.

On that "note", i'm outta here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Free Book Giveaway! Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

If you're anything like me, you probably need a little bit of wisdom and inspiration to get you through each day. Well lately, i've been able to get my daily dose of both from Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs. A recent press release about the book had this to say:

Authors Askhari and Yvonne share a passion for proverbs. Short, snappy sayings surround their lives. During their upbringings, they both learned, “proverbs are the daughters of experience” (Sierra Leone). Thus, LIFELINES draws inspiration from the authors’ experience and proverb gathering during their wide travels and particularly in their home communities on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Readers experiencing new births, weddings, career changes, death, and other rites of passage will find truth in the saying, “When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it” (Rwanda). Indeed, LIFELINES offers wisdom for every stage of our lives.

And Pearl Cleage, author of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, says
This little book contains the wisdom of the ages and is guaranteed to produce a smile of appreciation at the sheer good sense of the proverbs you will find inside. From advice you wish your mother had given you to things you probably suspected but had never put into words, Lifelines is a book to be read, to be absorbed, and to be treasured.

The book even features a Foreword by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu! I wonder if i can pull that off for my book...

Anyway, i may not be able to give away free cars to an entire studio audience like Oprah, but i can at least give away a free book! So here's the deal:

Leave a comment at the bottom of this post sharing the funniest or best proverb you have ever heard. Or, share a proverb that influences your life. If possible, identify the country of origin, but if all you know is you got it from grandma, then say that. If you're getting this by e-mail, then you can e-mail me your proverb.

Use a valid e-mail address so I can reach you if you’re the winner. I’ll pick a winner at random from the entries that follow my rules. The deadline to enter is Friday, November 20, 2009, and i'll announce the winner on this site on December 4, 2009. This will make a perfect holiday present!

By the way, if you're on facebook, you can become a fan of Daily Lifelines.

I'm Cliff, and on that "note", i'm outta here!


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Black-Brown Coalitions: No Longer Optional

As the first decade of the 21st century comes to a close, I am constantly reminded of WEB DuBois’ prophetic declaration at the beginning of the 20th century: that the major issue of the century would be the problem of the color line. While some folks may debate whether or not that will be true for the current century, what is NOT debatable is that overcoming the problem of the color line is going to require coalitions among all of those affected by it, particularly between Black and Latino communities.

With this in mind, the Southern Regional Council (SRC), one of the country's oldest civil rights organizations, recently released a report that examnies Black and Latino coalitions. The report features case studies from four successful coalitions in the South, and it includes lessons learned that could be useful for other organizations seeking to build such coalitions. The video below summarizes some of the report's key findings.

The above video, other videos and much more information about the SRC can be found at their blog, The SRC is seeking to disseminate the report widely. If you work with an organization that would like to receive hard copies of the report and/or pull together a group of organizations that would like to participate in a workshop, please contact the Southern Regional Council at or

i'm Cliff, and on that "note", i'm outta here!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Letter from an Israeli Jail, by Cynthia McKinney

I don't usually post other folks articles in full, but i'm making an exception here for a couple of reasons. One reason is because of the nature of the Palestinian struggle itself, which because of its connection to colonialism and segregation is an issue that Black folks should be particularly interested in. After all, it's no coincidence that while the rest of the world was pressuring South Africa to end apartheid, it was Israel (along with Ronald Reagan) that gave the illegal racist regime unwavering support.

Another reason i think this letter is important is because of the view it provides of Israeli "justice". Why are it's prisons filled with folks who are predominantly African/Black? If Jewish people can be from a variety of backgrounds (European/Ashkenazi Jews, Arab Jews, African/Ethiopian Jews, etc), why is it that Israeli political and economic leadership all seem to be of European descent?

Many Black folk, especially in the South, look at the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through a church based lens that usually leads Christians to identify more with Judaism than with Islam. It's time that we started looking at it from a differenct perspective.

For more info, visit

This is Cynthia McKinney and I'm speaking from an Israeli prison cellblock in Ramle. [I am one of] the Free Gaza 21, human rights activists currently imprisoned for trying to take medical supplies to Gaza, building supplies - and even crayons for children, I had a suitcase full of crayons for children. While we were on our way to Gaza the Israelis threatened to fire on our boat, but we did not turn around. The Israelis high-jacked and arrested us because we wanted to give crayons to the children in Gaza. We have been detained, and we want the people of the world to see how we have been treated just because we wanted to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.

At the outbreak of Israel's Operation ‘Cast Lead' [in December 2008], I boarded a Free Gaza boat with one day's notice and tried, as the US representative in a multi-national delegation, to deliver 3 tons of medical supplies to an already besieged and ravaged Gaza.

During Operation Cast Lead, U.S.-supplied F-16's rained hellfire on a trapped people. Ethnic cleansing became full scale outright genocide. U.S.-supplied white phosphorus, depleted uranium, robotic technology, DIME weapons, and cluster bombs - new weapons creating injuries never treated before by Jordanian and Norwegian doctors. I was later told by doctors who were there in Gaza during Israel's onslaught that Gaza had become Israel's veritable weapons testing laboratory, people used to test and improve the kill ratio of their weapons.

The world saw Israel's despicable violence thanks to al-Jazeera Arabic and Press TV that broadcast in English. I saw those broadcasts live and around the clock, not from the USA but from Lebanon, where my first attempt to get into Gaza had ended because the Israeli military rammed the boat I was on in international water ... It's a miracle that I'm even here to write about my second encounter with the Israeli military, again a humanitarian mission aborted by the Israeli military.

The Israeli authorities have tried to get us to confess that we committed a crime ... I am now known as Israeli prisoner number 88794. How can I be in prison for collecting crayons to kids?

Zionism has surely run out of its last legitimacy if this is what it does to people who believe so deeply in human rights for all that they put their own lives on the line for someone else's children. Israel is the fullest expression of Zionism, but if Israel fears for its security because Gaza's children have crayons then not only has Israel lost its last shred of legitimacy, but Israel must be declared a failed state.

I am facing deportation from the state that brought me here at gunpoint after commandeering our boat. I was brought to Israel against my will. I am being held in this prison because I had a dream that Gaza's children could color & paint, that Gaza's wounded could be healed, and that Gaza's bombed-out houses could be rebuilt.

But I've learned an interesting thing by being inside this prison. First of all, it's incredibly black: populated mostly by Ethiopians who also had a dream ... like my cellmates, one who is pregnant. They are all are in their twenties. They thought they were coming to the Holy Land. They had a dream that their lives would be better ... The once proud, never colonized Ethiopia [has been thrown into] the back pocket of the United States, and become a place of torture, rendition, and occupation. Ethiopians must free their country because superpower politics [have] become more important than human rights and self-determination.

My cellmates came to the Holy Land so they could be free from the exigencies of superpower politics. They committed no crime except to have a dream. They came to Israel because they thought that Israel held promise for them. Their journey to Israel through Sudan and Egypt was arduous. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them. And it wasn't cheap. Many of them represent their family's best collective efforts for self-fulfilment. They made their way to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. They got their yellow paper of identification. They got their certificate for police protection. They are refugees from tragedy, and they made it to Israel only after they arrived Israel told them "there is no UN in Israel."

The police here have license to pick them up & suck them into the black hole of a farce for a justice system. These beautiful, industrious and proud women represent the hopes of entire families. The idea of Israel tricked them and the rest of us. In a widely propagandized slick marketing campaign, Israel represented itself as a place of refuge and safety for the world's first Jews and Christian. I too believed that marketing and failed to look deeper.

The truth is that Israel lied to the world. Israel lied to the families of these young women. Israel lied to the women themselves who are now trapped in Ramle's detention facility. And what are we to do? One of my cellmates cried today. She has been here for 6 months. As an American, crying with them is not enough. The policy of the United States must be better, and while we watch President Obama give 12.8 trillion dollars to the financial elite of the United States it ought now be clear that hope, change, and ‘yes we can' were powerfully presented images of dignity and self-fulfilment, individually and nationally, that besieged people everywhere truly believed in.

It was a slick marketing campaign as slickly put to the world and to the voters of America as was Israel's marketing to the world. It tricked all of us but, more tragically, these young women.

We must cast an informed vote about better candidates seeking to represent us. I have read and re-read Dr. Martin Luther King Junior's letter from a Birmingham jail. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined that I too would one day have to do so. It is clear that taxpayers in Europe and the U.S. have a lot to atone for, for what they've done to others around the world.

What an irony! My son begins his law school program without me because I am in prison, in my own way trying to do my best, again, for other people's children. Forgive me, my son. I guess I'm experiencing the harsh reality which is why people need dreams. [But] I'm lucky. I will leave this place. Has Israel become the place where dreams die?

Ask the people of Palestine. Ask the stream of black and Asian men whom I see being processed at Ramle. Ask the women on my cellblock. [Ask yourself:] what are you willing to do?

Let's change the world together & reclaim what we all need as human beings: Dignity. I appeal to the United Nations to get these women of Ramle, who have done nothing wrong other than to believe in Israel as the guardian of the Holy Land, resettled in safe homes. I appeal to the United State's Department of State to include the plight of detained UNHCR-certified refugees in the Israel country report in its annual human rights report. I appeal once again to President Obama to go to Gaza: send your special envoy, George Mitchell there, and to engage Hamas as the elected choice of the Palestinian people.

I dedicate this message to those who struggle to achieve a free Palestine, and to the women I've met at Ramle. This is Cynthia McKinney, July 2nd 2009, also known as Ramle prisoner number 88794.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Saturday, July 4, 2009

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

As many of us get set to barbecue and light fireworks, whether in conscious celebration of the Fourth or simply to enjoy an extended weekend, i think it's worth considering the question posed by Frederick Douglass. The following are excerpts from a speech he gave in 1852 at an Independence Day commemoration sponsored by the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, NY. The full text of the speech can be found easily on the web, but one location is

I won't add any commentary here; i'll save that for a separate article. For now, i'll just let Brother Frederick speak.

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been tom from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.

You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave's point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July!

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America!

"I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;" I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just...

...At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour...

...Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery. "The arm of the Lord is not shortened," and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Glenn Beck Slices a Watermelon to Make a Point

Found this one over at Media Matters. Just months after a cartoon linked the stimulus bill with a monkey, Glenn Beck is now linking the climate change (cap and trade) bill with a watermelon. Unlike the cartoon, which some people claimed was never connected directly to Obama, Beck's use of the watermelon coincides with his guest's statement that the bill was being pushed by Obama. Maybe i'm just crazy, but you can watch and judge for yourself...

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Monday, June 22, 2009

Supreme Court maintains the Voting Rights Act… but with one dissent

As reported in a previous article, the Supreme Court had been considering a case, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, that challenged the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Today, the Supreme Court released its decision which keeps the Voting Rights Act intact.

As explained in a statement released by the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund,

“The Court's ruling today ensures that minority voters will continue to have the safeguards provided by the Section 5 preclearance process. The Court expanded the number of places that can seek to "bailout" or exempt themselves from preclearance. However, no Section 5-covered jurisdiction can do so without demonstrating a clean bill of health for a ten-year period.”

Although some observers predicted that the case might be decided on a 5 to 4 vote, as is often the situation on civil rights matters, the vote in this case was a surprising 8 to 1.

So, who, you may ask, was the lone dissenter? Who was the voice in the wilderness declaring that this voting rights stuff is overrated? Click here for the full article...

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sotomayor Comments "In Context"

By now, anyone reading this has likely already heard about the controversy surrounding remarks by Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor--remarks that nuts like Limbaugh and Gingrich are calling racist and/or reverse racist. While i'm sure that none of my Cliff Note readers would fall for the oakie doke, and most of us know that this manufactured controversy is about remarks taken out of context, it's likely that most of us haven't seen an expanded version of the remarks. So for those of you who need more ammunition for those potential conversations with white co-workers, i've included an extended excerpt below. Keep in mind that these remarks were specifically on the topic of judicial diversity as it relates to discrimination cases, and not just blanket remarks about judges in general.

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

My concern with this situation is the fact that in emphasizing how "fair" Judge Sotomayor has been on racial issues, the Obama adminstration is floating the stat that in cases dealing with racial discrimination, Judge Sotomayor has sided in favor of the alleged discriminators 80% of the time. While that info may help in getting her confirmed, it sure doesn't do anything to make me more confident that she'll be a strong advocate for racial justice. While i respect my fellow Bronx native and surely hope she gets confirmed, i would have preferred to see a Latina version of Thurgood Marshall or Constance Baker Motley.

But at the end of the day, this process should remind us of the limitations on a Black President. President Obama simply cannot and will not be the kind of president demonstrated by Richard Pryor. And while we may conclude that such a presidency is not necessary, we nevertheless have to decide what IS necessary. What is our agenda, and is it possible with Obama as president, or with anyone else as president for that matter?

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Sunday, May 31, 2009

Decisive Victory for Chokwe Lumumba and the People of Jackson, Mississippi!

Yours truly had the honor of being in Jackson and helping out on election day. A brief article on the victory can be found here. Contrary to what's stated in the article, the turnout in Ward 2 was actually higher in the run-off than in the first election, going against conventional wisdom. This was clearly a result of the Lumumba campaign's efforts to reach out to the voters and to involve them in the People's Assembly concept. Information about the People's Assembly and the People's Platform can be found at, where you can also make a donation to the campaign so that it can continue it's transformative work on participatory democracy!

The following is the official victory statement from the Lumumba campaign.

Committee to Elect Chokwe Lumumba May 19th Victory Statement
Transforming Ward 2, Jackson, and the South.

A genuine peoples victory was won on Tuesday, May 19th, 2009, the 84th Birthday of Malcolm X (El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz). The people’s lawyer, attorney Chokwe Lumumba, was elected to the City Council in Jackson, Mississippi representing Ward 2.

The foundation of this victory was laid by the decades of dedicated community service and organizing done by Attorney Lumumba, the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO), and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) here in Jackson. The victory was secured through the broad mass mobilization and fundraising efforts of the campaigns organizers, supporters and allies in Jackson and throughout the United States.

By electing Lumumba the residents of Ward 2 declared that they want a new leadership committed to their social and economic interests, and that of the City, with a proven ability to organize, motivate, and educate for positive change. By organizing themselves into People’s Assemblies in support of the election campaign, the people of Ward 2 have begun to build and exercise the power necessary to address their needs and solve the problems of their ward. Through the vehicle of the People’s Assembly the residents of Ward 2 have determined that the People’s Platform is THEIR Platform.

A new, independent, and potentially transformative force is being built in Jackson through the combined power of the Council office and the People’s Assembly. This force will not be bound by the confines of the two-party system. The building of this force will advance the development of a genuine participatory democracy that will help our people fulfill all their human rights, including the economic, social and cultural rights so often denied in the United States.

We hope this victory and the development of this model will not only inspire but also help build a new force in Black and progressive politics in the United States, one that will put the needs of people and the environment before profits. The victory on May 19th was just the first step. Now the hard work of utilizing the limited political power in this victory enables us to transform Ward 2, the entire city of Jackson and beyond. We hope everyone who reads and or hears about this victory will pass on this critical news and join us in the concrete work of building viable alternatives for the people of Ward 2, Jackson, the South and entire country by any means necessary!


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Atlanta Police Officer Shoots Young Black Man in the Face

It's a story that's become all too familiar.
Click here for a link to a video on the story

The following is from a press release calling for a candlelight vigil and community rally on this shooting and the issue of the broader issue of police violence.

Atlanta, Georgia- Activists, organizers and community members throughout the Atlanta area are called to participate in a Candlelight Vigil and Community Rally for police shooting victim Tramaine Miller at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, May 12, 2009, in front of City View Apartments at 259 Richardson Street in Atlanta, Georgia.

On Tuesday, May 5, 2009, this father, son, brother, and devoted nephew was shot in the face by a Atlanta Police Officer at the City View Apartments located at 259 Richardson Street. Mr. Tramaine Miller was called by his paralyzed aunt, a resident of City View Apartments, to help her with her medication. After helping his aunt he walked to his car to return home when the "Courtesy Officer", an off-duty Atlanta police officer, drew his weapon, demanding that he stop his vehicle. Suddenly, without warning, the Officer then shattered the glass to the driver's side window. Once the glass was shattered, the Officer fired a shot at point blank range into Tramaine's face. Tramaine was unarmed and had complied with every request the officer made when the officer shot him.

Independent witnesses, who gave statements to APD the night of the incident, say that the apartment residents had to call 911 due to the Officer's lack of response. Thus, after being shot, Tramaine remained in his car without any assistance for over 30 minutes. As of May 11th, Tramaine remains in Grady Hospital in serious condition with the bullet still lodged in his face. "The courage this family has exemplified by releasing a picture of Tramaine in the hospital with his face swollen from the bullet still lodged in it, is the same courage Emmett Till's mother exemplified when she opened his casket for the world to see what happened to her son's body when he was murdered," said Candlelight Vigil Organizer, Pastor Derrick Rice, of Sankofa United Church of Christ.

According to the Atlanta Police Department̢۪s statement to the press, the officer allegedly saw Tramaine in a nearby park, known to be an area of "drug activity". According to the officer, when Tramaine saw him, he ran and jumped into his car. The officer then alleges that Tramaine reached under his seat for "something". The Atlanta Police Department said that this shooting was justified because the officer felt that his life was threatened. As of May 11th, the officer who shot Tramaine in the face has not been arrested, charged, or even fired by the Atlanta Police Department. "We are interviewing witnesses and trying to ensure evidence is preserved. Our preliminary investigation has already uncovered some disturbing facts that someone must be held accountable for," says Attorney Robert Bozeman of the Davis Bozeman Law Firm.

We are calling for the residents of City View, all concerned citizens of Atlanta, and community activists, to come out for a candlelight vigil for Tramaine Miller and subsequent rally to end the unjust shootings in the our communities. "After the Neal Street shootings, where we discovered the willingness of Atlanta Police Officers to engage in a cover-up we have no choice but to continue demanding that federal authorities become involved to make sure that justice is done," states Attorney Mawuli Mel Davis of the Davis Bozeman Law Firm.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Artur Davis, Hate Crimes, and the Price of Becoming Governor

Back in February, I wrote a Cliff Note about a Black South Carolina State Senator who, while considering a run for Governor, felt the need to strengthen his White support by celebrating the Confederacy. Well a few weeks ago, another post-racial Dixie Governor wannabe decided to go the same Confederate lovin’ route. Artur Davis, candidate for Alabama Governor, recently criticized an Auburn City Councilman for removing confederate flags from a local cemetery.

Now personally, I’ve grown a little tired of the confederate flag stuff. And part of me has actually come to like it when the good ole Confederate loving racists let me know who and what they are from a distance. It saves me sooo much time and energy!

But I have little patience for these next generation Negro leaders who use all kinds of ridiculous messages and gestures to let White folks know that they have nothing to fear. It’s bad enough when these gestures are simply symbolic, as with the flag issue, but it’s far more troubling when theses gestures are actually on issues that matter.

Case in point: Artur Davis’ recent vote AGAINST the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The purpose of the bill is to provide Federal assistance to States and local jurisdictions to prosecute hate crimes. Considering that Davis represents Alabama’s blackbelt, the ancestral home of hate crimes, you would think he would support such a bill. Well, actually, he did support it two years ago when he voted FOR hate crimes legislation. But I guess that was before he was trying to run for Governor and before he realized he could use some of those KKK votes.

In a recent statement released after his vote against the current bill, Davis “explains” what influenced his decision. He says:
Some of my constituents ask why our federal laws should pick out some Americans for more protections than others. Some wonder why, in a culture that rejects violence against any human being, we should say that an attack on a black, or a woman, or a gay individual should be punished more severely than an attack on someone who happens to be a senior citizen, or a soldier, or a teacher. Others ask why some motives based on certain ideas should be punished by our criminal laws more aggressively than others.

I’m not sure which is more frightening—the thought that his constituents are asking such questions or the thought that Davis is utterly unprepared, or unwilling, to answer them. But in the spirit of cooperation, I’m offering to help Artur the next time he gets such questions from his constituents. Just send them my way, and I’ll gladly provide the answers that you’re too afraid to give.

For starters, I’ll explain that the law has always taken the intent of perpetrator into account—thus, the difference between manslaughter and murder, or negligence and fraud. There is nothing inconsistent about saying that some motives need to be dealt with more aggressively than others. And when those motives are driven by intentional and vile feelings of hatred, towards not just one person but an entire group, then we need make no apologies for treating those crimes more harshly than an individual and random act of violence.

Of course, this is not the first time that Davis has voted against the Democratic House leadership. In fact, during Davis’ first four years in Congress, prior to the Democratic takeover in 2006, he would routinely vote with the Republicans, going against the interests of his constituents in the process. Perhaps the most notable example of this was his 2004 vote for the infamous bankruptcy bill that made it harder for folks to get debts wiped away. The Republican sponsored bill was seen as a huge victory for credit card and finance companies.

Again, considering that Davis represents one of the poorest districts in the country—a district plagued by pay day loans and predatory lending—you would think he would have fought against such a bill. But when your convictions change according to the political winds, and your ambitions have you looking beyond your current constituents, “the least of these” usually suffer.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if this type of representation is the price we have to pay for getting Blacks elected to statewide and national office, we might as well stick with the White folks.

On that “note”, I’m outta here!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Supreme Court and Voting Rights: Deja Vu?

Today, the Supreme Court will hear a case challenging a key aspect of the 1965 Voting Rights Act--Section 5. Section 5 is generally thought of as the section that gives the Act some teeth—it gives the federal government the tools necessary to enforce the spirit of the Act. Among other things, the section requires states with a history of racial discrimination to “pre-clear” any voting policy changes with the U.S. Justice Department. Section 5 claims involve everything from the location of polling places within a congressional district, to the redrawing of congressional district lines, in order to prevent racial gerrymandering the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional.

Now, let’s put aside that fact that, depending on who the president is at any given time, getting changes pre-cleared is not always as difficult as it sounds. For example, under George W. Bush, Mississippi probably could have tried to reinstate literacy tests and the poll tax and Bush’s Justice Department surely would have pre-cleared it. In fact, that essentially what they did by pre-clearing new Voter ID requirements that added an extra financial burden to voter registration. But let’s put that aside for now.

And let’s also put aside the fact that while there has been a boom in Black elected officials since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, progress on racial disparities in poverty, employment, housing, health and other areas has been inconsistent at best. And in some areas, such as the criminal justice system, disparities have actually gotten worse. But let’s put that aside for now.

If we put aside the long-term benefits that we expect to come from voting, and just focus on the objective reality of using the vote, it’s clear that the Voting Rights Act has been one of the most effective pieces of legislation ever. That success is largely due to Section 5, but if you listen to the nine states that are subject to the pre-clearance requirements, they’ll tell you that they are now a more kinder, gentler South—a “new” South if you will—and that pre-clearance is no longer necessary. A conservative leaning Supreme Court may find their argument convincing.

Perhaps you’re thinking that this will be the case where Clarence Thomas finally decides to protect the kinds of rights that allowed him to become only the second Black person to serve on the Supreme Court. Don’t hold your breath. A few weeks ago, at an awards banquet with high school students, Thomas seemed to minimize the Bill of Rights when he made the following remarks:

It seems to me that more and more people are celebrated for their litany of grievances about this or that… Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our bill of obligations and our bill of responsibilities?

As you reflect on Clarence’s remarks consider this. Inside the Supreme Court, directly above where the Justice’s sit, is a mural that includes an image symbolizing the Bill of Rights. The image was included because evidently someone felt that the Bill of Rights was central to the work of the Court. Apparently, Clarence never got that memo.

More importantly, Thomas and the other conservatives on the Court have already shown their thinking on these matters. In addition to approving Voter ID laws, just a few weeks ago the Court narrowed the circumstances where a majority Black district could be protected during redistricting. The decision could have a major impact during the next round of redistricting in 2010.

It’s been said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too critical of the Court. Perhaps they’re just playing their part in a historical cycle that’s beyond their control. Let us not forget that after the Civil War, the United States went through a period of Reconstruction, a period that saw the passage of civil rights laws and the election of Black Senators and at least one Governor. As an unfinished Reconstruction came to an end, one of the critical factors was a Supreme Court that eliminated the legislative gains that had been made.

More than 100 years later, the country experienced a Civil Rights Movement that some referred to as the second Reconstruction. In recent years that movement has led to the elections of Black Senators, a Black Governor and yes, even a Black President. And here we are, right back at the Supreme Court.

While the question of whether the Supreme Court will eliminate Section 5 is important, perhaps there are some deeper questions we need to ask. For example, if the 15th Amendment guarantees the right to vote, why is Section 5, and the rest of the Voting Rights Act, even needed at all. Seems to me that if we can answer that question—really answer that question--and then deal with the answer, we may stop being condemned to repeat the past.

On that “note”, i’m outta here!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Richard Pryor - 40th President of the U.S.

Even though i've embedded the youtube video below, i must give credit to the Black Business Builders Club for featuring it. As mentioned on the Black Business Builders page, look for Robin Williams, John Witherspoon, Marsha Warfield, Tim Reid, and Sandra Bernhard in this classic sketch.

On that "note", i'm outta here!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

My First Podcast! Religion and Poverty

This is the first of a feature i plan to use once a week--audio clips to supplement some of my written commentaries. The clip below was chosen partially because i was reflecting on how often many of us use religion to justify and rationalize things that just don't need to be justified. Whether it's racists who rely on the so-called "curse of Ham" (which doesn't even exist) or sexists who rely on some shaky interpretations and examples like Paul advising that women should be quiet in the church, folks who wanna do wrong can usually find a good verse to hide behind.

The same applies to the matter of poverty. While doing my radio show in Selma i had some heated exchanges with White callers trying to justify the vast disparities in wealth between Blacks and Whites. The clip below isn't from one of those heated exchanges, but the caller (who happened to be a regular who i like) cites one of the verses that folks on Wall Street probably love the most--Jesus saying that "the poor will be with you always". Listen to the clip and let me know what you think.

To see what other podcasts are available, please visit my Gabcast channel by clicking here.

On that "note", i'm outta here!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Things You Can Do in Atlanta to Support Justice!

Support Political Prisoner Kamau Sadiki (Freddie Hilton)

Last month i did a post talking about the case of the San Francisco 8 and how the police/FBI war continues against former Black Panthers continues today.

Former Black Panther Party member and political prisoner Kamau Sadiki (Freddie Hilton) will appear in Judge Stephanie Manis courtroom on Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 9:30 am. Sadiki is seeking a re-trial on a murder conviction in 2003. Atlanta Police had closed a case of the 1971 killing of an Atlanta police officer. In 1999, the FBI in pursuit of collaboration in their attempts to recapture Assata Shakur, a political exile in Cuba, threatened Sadiki with life in prison if he did not assist them. When Sadiki did not comply the FBI convinced Atlanta police to re-open the case and charge Sadiki. The FBI assisted the Atlanta police and prosecutors in manufacturing witnesses (none who actually saw the shooting) against Sadiki. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison 32 years after the incident.

Please come to court and show Brother Sadiki moral support. Judge Manis court is at the Fulton County Superior Court Building, 136 Pryor Street, SW Fulton County Courthouse / Courtroom 5c Atlanta, Georgia (30303).

To learn more about the life, activism and case of Kamau Sadiki, please click here.

See the Film "American Violet"

The info below is from the e-mail that was sent out by Color of Change, but i'll just add my two cents. I saw the movie yesterday, and it was great! Powerful story, good acting, and as someone who has lived in a small town like the one in the movie, it does a good job of depicting how the power of the so-called "justice" system is intertwined all throughout everyday life. Go see it. Then talk about it. And then let's ORGANIZE around it!

Too often, police drug raids in low-income communities across the county sweep up innocent people. Once in the system, it can become nearly impossible for these folks to prove their innocence. They lose their freedom; their families are broken; and the true story is rarely told.

American Violet is a new award-winning film that's playing for a limited run in Atlanta that can help shine a light on the problem. By going to see the movie, you can help it get more exposure--it will run longer in theaters if it does well at first.

American Violet tells the amazing story of a young, single mother swept up in an unjust, out-of-control drug raid that targets the Black community in a small town in Texas. The film is based on true events and it examines how our country's drug laws and enforcement practices target African-Americans, and how the justice system uses threats and intimidation to steer people towards guilty pleas, regardless of their innocence or the evidence against them.

You can watch the trailer below:

The film is inspired by the real life story of Regina Kelly, an African-American, single mother of four girls who was arrested in 2000 in a military-style drug raid. The raid resulted in the arrest of nearly 15% of the town's young Black male population for felony cocaine distribution. Kelly was innocent. Her name, along with the names of many others arrested (nearly all African-American), were given to police by a single, highly unreliable informant with personal reasons to antagonize her. Despite Kelly's innocence, she was urged to plead guilty by her family and even her public defender so that she could return to her children and receive a minimal sentence. A felony conviction, however, would have resulted in the loss of her right to vote and the public assistance programs on which her family depended, not to mention the tainting of her personal reputation and her ability to obtain employment. She chose to maintain her plea of not guilty. American Violet tells the story of her fight for justice.

Click here to find showtimes and buy tickets:

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

NOTEworthy News, 4/13/09

Georgia AG Thurbert Baker entering race for Georgia governor (February 9, AP)
Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker is entering the 2010 race for governor in Georgia, jumping into a crowded field to replace Sonny Perdue when his second term expires. If he wins Baker, a Democrat, would be Georgia’s first black governor… When [former Gov. Zell] Miller appointed Baker attorney general in 1997, he made history as the first black to hold the post. In 2006 he was elected to his third four-year term.

Cliff Note: Looks like Thurbert Baker is just the latest of Black candidates around the country who have caught that contagious disease known as “Yes We Can” fever. I’m pretty sure Mr. Baker must be aware that President Obama got blown out in Georgia, so i sure hope he’s not planning to ride those coattails.

Like many of the new generation, post-racial Negro leaders, Baker tries to downplay race. In fact, it was Baker who, during the Genarlow Wilson case, played party pooper after Wilson received a favorable decision from the county court, which resulted in his sentence being reduced. As Attorney General, Baker promised to appeal the decision and tried to keep Genarlow in jail. If that’s the kind of thing we can expect from Georgia’s first Black Governor, we might as well stick with the white ones.

But i will say this much for him, at least he’s already won statewide elections—three to be exact. That’s more than i can say about some other pretenders, i mean contenders, seeking to become governors in Dixie. I won’t mention any names…

[Cough. Cough] Artur.

[Cough. Cough] Harold.

(Tennessee) African-Americans Go Courting County Votes as Political Doors Open Wider (April 2, 2009, Tri-State Defender)
The political doors of Shelby County government have opened wider for African Americans. Otis Jackson won election as Shelby County General Sessions Court clerk. Cheyenne Johnson won election as Shelby County Assessor of Property on the first try. And A C Wharton is the Shelby County mayor. Before Jackson, Johnson and Wharton, African Americans running for countywide offices often found themselves on the losing end against non-black candidates – sometimes by small percentages. But race is not as reliable a predictor of election outcomes as it has been in the past. Full article.

Cliff Note: When i first read this article, it challenged my theories about this post-racial America mythology, particularly my belief that at the local level we are nowhere near a post-racial America. I was going to post it anyway, just to show i’m not afraid of stories that conflict with my analysis, but then i decided to dig a little deeper into Shelby County, Tennesse, the county discussed above, which includes the city of Memphis.

It turns out that Shelby County has been undergoing an out-migration of white residents for some time now, thereby increasing the Black percentage of the population (from around 43% in 1990 to more than 52% in 2008). So the ability of three Black candidates to win county-wide offices is NOT evidence of a post-racial America. To the contrary, it’s evidence that most of the white population fleeing the county were likely the ones who refused to vote for Black candidates previously.

Georgia Assembly Okays Death Penalty Alternative, Denies Spilt Jury Measure (April 5, 2009, Atlanta Progressive News)
A bill, SB 13, passed the Georgia Assembly this year, which will allow district attorneys to seek life without parole for individuals convicted of murder, without first having to ask for the death penalty in order to obtain such a ruling…

At the same time, the Georgia legislature fought back bills which would possibly have increased death penalty sentences, including HB 32, which would allow split, or non-unanimous, juries in Georgia to issue death penalty verdicts…

Yet, a bill by State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) to end the death penalty in Georgia, SB 175, did not receive consideration in committee.
Full article.

Cliff Note: It’s nice that SB 13 passed, but Senator Fort’s bill (which i believe was actually for a moratorium, not to abolish) would have been better. Just a couple of months ago, New Mexico became the third state in two years to abolish the death penalty, and there are currently eleven other states considering similar bans.

There are a lot of reasons why I’m against the death penalty. The probability of killing an innocent person and the sheer hypocrisy of trying to decrease murder by allowing the government to murder are just two reasons. But at the top of my list of reasons is this simple fact: the death penalty is nothing more than a legal lynching. It’s no coincidence that 1) is has always been used disproportionately, and in some states almost exclusively, against Black defendants, 2) it is used primarily when the victims of a crime have been white, sending the clear message that taking a white life is somehow more unacceptable than taking a Black life, and 3) it is used most often in southern states—states that have always sought to control their Black residents.

I could bore you with a whole lot of stats regarding the death penalty, but instead i’ll just give a small sample. Since 1976, 235 executions have been of Black defendants with White victims, while only 15 executions have been for the reverse. And how ‘bout this little tidbit: 20% of Blacks who were executed were convicted by all-white juries. For more stats, you can go to the Death Penalty Information Center. They’ve got some great info.

In a 1987 case, the U.S. Supreme Court was forced to admit that race has an impact on death penalty sentencing. The only problem is, after recognizing that fact, they failed to require or even suggest anything to deal with that inconvenient truth. The video below features Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative talking about that case and racism in death penalty sentencing.

By the way, i started writing this on Friday—Good Friday—a day on which we commemorate the most important death penalty sentence of all time. And go figure, He was Black too!

So, yes, while the Georgia Assembly’s move to provide the option of life without parole is a step forward, we should not be confused about the facts that 1) it still needs to be signed by the Governor, and 2) much of the Assembly is still attempting to make it easier to sentence people to death. In fact, you have some legislators in Georgia who would love to make Georgia more like its neighbor, Alabama, where a judge can override a jury that sentences a defendant to jail time and impose the death sentence over the jury’s wishes. Now that’s democracy!

And let’s not forget that the state of Georgia is still trying to execute Troy Davis in spite of the fact that 7 of the 9 witnesses in his original trial, witnesses who were probably coerced into testifying, have since recanted their testimony. Perhaps if Troy had been accused of killing a Black single mom instead of a white police officer he wouldn’t be on death row right now.

On that “note”, i’m outta here!