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George Curry

Baltimore is not Ferguson

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(NNPA) Baltimore is not Ferguson. That was evident by opposite official reactions to the death of an unarmed African American male killed at the hands of local police in the respective cities. At the time of Michael Brown’s death last year in Ferguson, Mo., the city with a two-thirds Black majority was governed by a White mayor and a White city manager, had only one Black on the 6-member city council, and had a White police chief who directed a department that was 94 percent White. Equally telling, less than 12 percent of voters turned out to cast a ballot in 2014.

Though also predominantly Black – 63.7 percent – Baltimore has a Black mayor, police commissioner, state’s attorney and president of a city council that is 60 percent African American. The police force is 48 percent Black.

After the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch mangled his grand jury presentation – perhaps deliberately – that resulted in the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the White officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

As the New York Times pointed out, the St. Louis County Prosecutor strayed from customary behavior by, among other things:

 

  • Convening the grand jury for 25 days over three months instead of the usual one;
  • Calling 60 witnesses, possibly confusing jurors, instead of only a few that are usually called;
  • Allowing Wilson to testify for four hours, without being cross-examined, though most potential defendants do not usually testify before a grand jury and
  • Taking the unusual step of not making a recommendation to the grand jury.

 

So, no one was surprised that the jury of nine Whites and three Blacks voted not to indict Darren Wilson.

In Baltimore, things were different. First, voters had ousted the incumbent state attorney by electing Marilyn J. Mosby over Gregg L. Bernstein in the Democratic primary. Though on the job less than four months, the 35-year-old Mosby made the courageous decision to charge six Baltimore police officers with crimes that included murder and manslaughter instead of conveniently shifting that responsibility to a grand jury.

Mosby made her decision several hours after receiving the medical examiner’s report that concluded that Gray’s death was a homicide.

At a news conference, she said: “The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide that we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.”

She also said, “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”

Shortly after Mosby announced her decision, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, also an African American, said she was “sickened and heartbroken” by the charges outlined by Mosby. She said, “To those of you who want to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear: There is no place for you in the Baltimore City Police Department.”

The fact that Rawlings-Blake and Mosby were in a position to act boldly was possible only because Black voters put them in office. You can’t reasonably hope for that kind of outcome when only 12 percent of the voters turn out for an election, which was the case in Ferguson.

But don’t get it twisted: Having Blacks in office or voting in large numbers do not guarantee justice will be done. Blacks vote in respectable numbers in New York City yet the White officer, David Pantaleo, was never prosecuted in the choking death of Eric Garner.

In Baltimore, the state’s attorney’s investigation revealed that many of the early assertions made by the police department, under the supervision of Black Police Commissioner Anthony Batts were inaccurate. Even worse, of the six officers charged, three of them – Sgt. Alicia White and Officers William Porter and Caesar Goodson, Jr. – are African American.

Goodson faces the most serious charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He was driving the van that transported Gray and was accused of not placing the suspect in a seatbelt for his safety.

Porter was told twice that Gray was in need of a medic, but never called one, according to the prosecutor. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and other charges. White arrived on the scene after Gray had been placed in the police van. But she, too, was accused of failing to summon a medic. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

The other officers – Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice – were charged with, among other things, second-degree assault.

Clearly, having Blacks in key positions is no guarantee that justice will be served. But it certainly increases the odds of that happening, as we have seen in Baltimore.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

Michael Eric Dyson vs. Cornel West

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It’s the academic version of the world heavyweight championship boxing matches between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Zaire labeled “The Rumble in the Jungle” and the Philippine’s “Thriller in Manila.” Whatever label you attach to it, the public feud between Professors Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, two of our most gifted intellectuals, cannot be ignored.

Dyson’s original opus weighed in at nearly 10,000 words – four to five times the length of a typical magazine feature story – and landed plenty of punches to West’s body of work. Dyson charged that Obama’s inauguration marked “a pronounced and decades-long scholarly decline” for West.

He explained, “It is not only that West’s preoccupations with Obama’s perceived failures distracted him, though that is true; more accurate would be to say that the last several years revealed West’s paucity of serious and fresh intellectual work, a trend far longer in the making. West is still a Man of Ideas, but those ideas today are a vain and unimaginative repackaging of his earlier hits. He hasn’t published without aid of a co-writer a single scholarly book since Keeping Faith, which appeared in 1993, the same year as Race Matters.”

Despite other issues addressed by Dyson in his tome, at its core, this heavyweight fight is personal. In the interest of full disclosure, I know both Cornel and Michael and count each of them as a friend.

Except for the length of Dyson’s article, the only thing surprising is that he waited this long to reply to West’s attacks on him. And readers had to wait almost until the end of the article to learn what West specifically said about Dyson that so enraged him.

“In November 2012, West, friend and mentor, one of the three men whose name is on my Princeton doctoral dissertation, let me have it in the national media. It was during an appearance with Tavis Smiley on Democracy Now, shortly after Obama’s reelection. ‘I love Brother Mike Dyson,’ West said. ‘But we’re living in a society where everybody is up for sale. Everything is up for sale. And he and Brother Sharpton and Sister Melissa and others, they have sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage. And we invite them back to the black prophetic tradition after Obama leaves. But at the moment, they want insider access, and they want to tell those kinds of lies. They want to turn their back to poor and working people. And it’s a sad thing to see them as apologists for the Obama administration in that way, given the kind of critical background that all of them have had at some point.’”

As Dyson wrote, “West was just warming up.” Dyson continued, “After a fiftieth anniversary celebration of the 1963 March on Washington on the National Mall, a celebration Sharpton led and at which I spoke, West argued that Martin Luther King Jr. ‘would’ve been turning over in his grave’ at Sharpton’s ‘coronation’ as the ‘bona fide house negro of the Obama plantation,’ supported by ‘the Michael Dysons and others who’ve really prostituted themselves intellectually in a very, very ugly and vicious way.’ And recently, while promoting Black Prophetic Fire, West argued ‘the Sharptons, the Melissa Harris-Perrys, and the Michael Eric Dysons … end up being these cheerleaders and bootlickers for the President, and I think it’s a disgrace when it comes to the black prophetic tradition of Malcolm and Martin.’”

West responded to Dyson briefly on Facebook, saying: “Character assassination is the refuge of those who hide and conceal these issues in order to rationalize their own allegiance to the status quo.”

Dyson responded to West’s response and pushback from other quarters with a second, 2,623-word article in The New Republic. Regarding his decision to publicly answer West, Dyson, quoting old folks who administered public spankings to children, said, “Where you did it is where you get it.”

Of all the issues facing Black America – police murders, poverty, mass incarceration, drones, unfair trade policies, electronic surveillance, failing schools, unemployment, Wall Street power, and Israeli occupation of Palestinians, to use part of West’s list of pressing issues – a heavyweight fight between two prized Black intellectuals is an unwanted distraction.

Four years ago, I arranged and moderated a conversation between West and Sharpton at a National Newspapers Publishers Association’s convention in Chicago. It was a cordial and respectful conversation. However, it wasn’t long before West personally attacked Sharpton again. So I have little hope that a sit-down between West and Dyson would yield anything beyond a temporary truce.

In the end, West and Dyson will be judged not by the amount of flowery venom they can direct at each other – we’ve had more than enough of that already – but whether they can help find solutions for the array of vexing problems that still plague our people.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

Proof that the Supreme Court Got it Wrong in Shelby

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When the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act nearly two years ago in Shelby County v. Holder, many of us suspected that Chief Justice John Roberts in particular was distorting the severity of voting violations in jurisdictions covered by the act. As a popular GEICO commercial says, now we know.

We now know because of extensive research conducted by William R. Kenan, Jr., a professor at the California Institute of Technology, titled, “Do the Facts of Voting Rights Support Chief Justice Roberts’ Opinion in Shelby County?”

By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional Section 4 of the law that requires certain jurisdictions with a proven history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any changes in their elections – such as redistricting, annexations and switching to at-large elections – with either the Justice Department or the federal District Court in Washington, D.C.

Despite renewals of the Voting Rights Act by Congress in 1970, 1975, 1982 and a 25-year extension in 2006, Roberts contended that the preclearance provision was no longer needed.

Writing for the majority, Roberts said, “…. But history did not end in 1965. By the time the Act was reauthorized in 2006, there had been 40 more years of it. In assessing the ‘current need’ for a preclearance system that treats States differently from one another today, that history cannot be ignored. During that time, largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased, and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers. And yet the coverage formula that Congress reauthorized in 2006 ignores these developments, keeping the focus on decades-old data relevant to decades-old problems, rather than current data reflecting current needs.”

However, as Kenan points out in his research, “Neither the Chief Justice nor any scholars or civil rights proponents or opponents have systematically examined the evidence on the entire pattern of proven voting rights violations over time and space.”

Kenan examined the issue by compiling what he called the largest such database in existence, including numerous maps to make his point.

“Congress in 2006 was not presented with maps or other documents that laid out the pattern of proven voting rights infractions so starkly, but it received plentiful evidence in the form of lists and discussions of cases that showed that the problems were still overwhelmingly concentrated in the South and that discrimination continued to be widespread,” he wrote.

“And the map would have shown that the number of voting rights infractions had increased, not decreased, compared to the earlier period.”

Kenan explained, “An objective observer in 2006 comparing the number and location of all successful voting rights events in the period since the last renewal in 1982 with the events of the years from 1957 to 1981 would conclude that Section 5 needed to be renewed, and that the coverage scheme still fit the problem remarkably well, hitting the target about 94% of the time. Even among Section 2 cases, which could be filed anywhere in the country, 83.2% of the successful cases from 1982 through 2005 originated in covered jurisdictions.”

Roberts was joined by the court’s conservative majority, including Clarence Thomas. As usual, Thomas asked no questions during the proceedings. In his concurring opinion, he stated, “I join the Court’s opinion in full but write separately to explain that I would find Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional as well.”

That comes as no surprise. But what did come as a surprise, as I have written here, was that the National Black Chamber of Commerce (not to be confused with the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc.), established by Harry C. Alford and his wife, Kay, filed a brief in support of Shelby County mirroring the objections raised by John Roberts.

In its shameful friend-of-the court brief, it claimed, “Section 5 is no longer necessary to combat widespread and persistent discrimination in voting and now, perversely serves as an impediment to racial neutrality in voting and to the empowerment of state and local officials who represent minority constituencies.”

The research undercuts the premise advanced by John Roberts and Harry Alford’s group and notes the role courts play in undermining access to the ballot box.

Professsor Kenan wrote, “…by rendering decisions that make it easier or harder to bring and win voting rights cases or make objections, the Supreme Court can, in effect, manipulate the evidence of discrimination, which it can then use, in a second stage, to justify a decision to further weaken or strengthen the tools. It can create the reality that it subsequently reacts to. The Rehnquist and Roberts Courts have done exactly that.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

Controversy Over Videotaping Cops

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(NNPA) Feidin Santana, the young Dominican immigrant who videotaped North Charleston, S.C. police officer Michael Slager firing his gun eight times, killing Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man who was fleeing, was a hero. His quick decision to videotape the unfolding action on his telephone led to the arrest of Slager for murder.

However, in some states, instead of being hailed as a hero, Santana would be the one behind bars. Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts have used their wiretapping laws to prevent videotaping police in public places. Some states are moving in that direction.

But, as we can now see, videotape can be a game changer.

This was vividly illustrated in 1991 with the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. More recently, the July 17 choking death of Eric Garner in New York City was captured on video as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.”

Thanks to a passerby, we also saw the July 1 video of a California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew straddling Marlene Pinnock, a 51-year old Black woman near a Santa Monica freeway and punching her 10-15 times. She reached an out-of-court settlement that required a $1.5 million payment and the resignation of Andrew.

Although no one can creditably deny the value of citizens being able to videotape on-duty police officers operating in public spaces, courts are sharply divided on whether that’s protected under the First Amendment.

In an article titled, “The Legal Right to Videotape Police Isn’t Actually All That Clear,” the Atlantic Citylab noted, “… The truth is that courts have not uniformly recognized that a right to record police actually exists. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has expressed its support for the right to record, only four federal appeals courts have ruled that such a right exists; others have either not ruled at all or narrowly rules that no right had been ‘clearly established.’”

I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. But the best available legal advice seems to be that generally speaking, it’s legal under the First Amendment to videotape on-duty police officers as long as it is on public property and you are not interfering with them performing their official duties. As noted above, some state laws ban such recordings.

One legal site, findlaw.com, recommends that you:

  • Tell police you are recording them;
  • Comply with their requests to step back or identify yourself;
  • Keep your camera out of the way (low and close to your body); and
  • If need be, calmly remind them of your right to film them.

Another site, reasons.com, lists seven rules for recording police, including knowing your state’s law and passcode protecting your cellphone.

Given recent success, you can expect police unions around the nation to push for legislation that would bar citizens from videotaping such incidents involving police.

Even before the recent spree of police killing African Americans, there was strong resistance. A woman in Rochester, N.Y., for example, was arrested and charged with obstructing governmental administration in 2011 after videotaping three White police officers interrogating a Black man from her front yard. Charges were later dropped against the woman, Emily Good, 28.

What would have happened to Officer Slager in South Carolina had there been no videotape? In a word –nothing.

In fact, the officer had radioed, “Shots fired… Subject is down. He grabbed my Taser,” a charge not supported by the videotape. Instead, what we see in the video is Slager dropping the Taser near Scott’s motionless body. The cover-up was underway before Scott’s body could be moved to the morgue.

The local newspaper reported the next day:

“A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him.

“That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.

“The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged.”

Of course, that was a lie.

According to the Washington Post, Victoria Middleton, executive director for the ACLU of South Carolina, said: “…I think one of the concerns that immediately comes to mind is the discrepancy between the initial story, the kind of rush to judgment, the rush to say that procedures were followed and this was justified, and then when the video surfaced that quickly unraveled. That could raise concerns about other incidents in which we have been assured that nothing was out of order and the officer acted completely properly but there were no witnesses or video documentation to dispute that.”

And that’s why we must resist all efforts to prevent citizens from freely videotaping police while they are supposedly acting in a lawful manner.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

I Had a Heart Attack

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(NNPA) Nothing was more startling than when a cardiologist looked me directly in the eyes and said matter-of-factly: “It looks like you had a heart attack.” I was dumbfounded. When? Where? How much damage was done? Why didn’t I know it?

It certainly didn’t feel like I had suffered a heart attack.

I had just covered and participated in the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Ala. The ceremonies had special significance to me because as a senior at Druid High School in Tuscaloosa, I had participated in the last day of the march in Montgomery, where I saw James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte for the first time.

Ann and I arrived a day early, had dinner with Susan Gandy, the youngest of my three sisters, who had driven over to Montgomery from Tuskegee with her husband, Iverson, Jr., and my neice, Rachel.

In addition to covering the president’s speech Saturday, I had received a Freedom Flame Award that night and on Sunday morning was one of the speakers at the Martin and Coretta King Unity Breakfast. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday and completed my writing and editing for the NNPA News Service on Monday.

We stopped in Buford, Ga. Tuesday en route back to Washington, D.C. to visit Ann’s son, Derek Ragland; his wife, April, and our grandkids, Austin, 5, and Autumn 1.

On Wednesday night, I felt a slight pain in my chest, but dismissed it as indigestion. It continued Thursday night. When the pain persisted Friday night, Ann insisted on taking me to the hospital and I acquiesced.

We ended up at Emory Johns Creek Hospital. To Ann’s disbelief, I grabbed my iPad mini, a book, my charger, and a notebook as we headed out of the door. I know how long the wait can be in emergency rooms and did not want to be without reading material if I became trapped in the waiting lounge.

But once my symptoms were shared with the intake nurses, I was whizzed through the paperwork and placed in a room to wait for a doctor, to be administered an EKG and, of course, give blood.

“We’re going to keep you overnight to see what’s happening,” the attending physician told me. From the way he said “keep me,” I deduced that they were not keeping me around just to get to know me better. Something was amiss and I wasn’t sure what it was. I was wheeled into a private room in the Intensive Care Unit, where I was closely monitored around the clock, had blood extracted – usually at ungodly hours – and hooked up to a series of instruments. A hospital is not place to get sleep; it’s the only place in the world where they wake you up to give you a sleeping pill.

I was told around midnight that at 7 a.m. Saturday, a stent would be inserted into my heart to unblock a clogged artery. At the age of 50, I had a triple bypass. I had played quarterback at Druid High and Knoxville College and neither drank – not even wine – smoked nor used illicit drugs. Yet, an athletic past and clean living were not sufficient. I was the son of the South and I had grown up in a family where our grease was cooked in grease.

Now, 18 years later, I was told that of the three bypassed arteries, one was completely blocked, one was 97 percent blocked, and one was functioning fine. The surgery itself was not as dramatic as the bypass, which required the heart to be stopped temporarily. This time, the cardiologist made an incision in my groin, placed a stent over a balloon catheter and slid it into the heart muscle to improve blood flow. I was awake, but did not feel any pain.

From there, the ICU nurses — especially Glenn, Rene, KayLee and Shig — took fantastic care of me. They could not have provided better care, even if that meant waking me constantly.

I had a follow-up visit and a stress test with Dr. Jigishu Dhabuwala at the North Atlanta Heart and Vascular Clinic before being released to the care of Dr. Boisey O. Barnes, my regular cardiologist in Washington. I spoke with Dr. Barnes during this period and before I returned home, he had already discussed getting me into a heart rehabilitation program and enrolling me in a Harvard study to prevent second heart attacks.

After writing about my bypass 18 years ago, Bill Pickard, a Detroit businessman, said I had probably saved his life because he took some immediate steps to improve his health after reading about my challenge in Emerge magazine.

At the urging of “Uncle Mike” Fauvelle of Setauket, N.Y., I am writing about my second close call with death, hoping that it, too, will prompt you to not only pay closer attention to your health, but be aware of the small signs of trouble and do something about it immediately if you sense something is awry.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

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