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George Curry

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.

Below-the-Belt Attacks on the Obamas

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(NNPA) No United States president has been more disrespected than Barack Obama – and his family.

The hatred for the nation’s first African American president is so deep that all but seven Republicans in the U.S. Senate were willing to write a letter to Iran that amounted to treason on a grand scale.

In an effort to derail talks that would limit Iran’s nuclear weapons, 47 Republican senators signed an “open letter” to Iran’s leaders claiming any deal they reach with the administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

In an issue that caused the Republican senators to be labeled traitors in a New York Daily News headline. An editorial: said, “Regardless of President Obama’s fecklessness in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, 47 Republican U.S. senators engaged in treachery by sending a letter to the mullahs aimed at cutting the legs out from under America’s commander-in-chief. We join GOP signatories in opposing the pact as outlined, but we strenuously condemn their betrayal of the U.S. constitutional system.”

In case there is any doubt, the liberal political website PoliticusUSA stated, “According to the dictionary definition, a traitor is one who betrays a person, a principle, or especially their country. It is of no consequence why someone, or a group, chooses to work in opposition to their nation, or fellow citizens’ well-being, because if their intent and result of their actions is to deliberately damage or cause harm to their country or fellow citizens, they are by definition traitors.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that Democrats and Republicans observed the rule that while we might have our internal debates, when it comes for foreign policy, we speak with one voice – that of the president.

House Republicans ignored that long-standing custom by inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress, knowing he would be critical of ongoing negotiations by the U.S. and its allies to freeze Iran’s nuclear weapons. The White House was not consulted on the invitation, a sharp departure from established protocol.

The disrespect for Obama and the presidency itself has reached such a low point that a headline in the Washington Post summed it up this way: “Republicans are beginning to act as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president.”

The story explained, “It’s safe to say that no president in modern times has had his legitimacy questioned by the opposition party as much as Barack Obama. But as his term in office enters its final phase, Republicans are embarking on an entirely new enterprise: They have decided that as long as he holds the office of the presidency, it’s no longer necessary to respect the office itself.”

And many argue that the hatred extends well beyond partisan politics.

PolitcusUSA stated, “It is likely that throughout America’s short history, except for the traitorous Confederacy, no group of individuals has exhibited the characteristic betrayal of a traitor more than conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular. What makes their actions all the more despicable is that their traitorous actions are founded on racial animus for one man; and allegiance to foreigners and one tiny segment of the population.”

The attacks on Obama began when he first ran for president, with some conservatives openly questioning whether he was a U.S. citizen.

Marilyn Davenport, a member of the Orange County Republican Party in California, e-mailed a cartoon in 2010 with the face of President Obama superimposed on a chimpanzee. Also pictured were two older chimpanzees described as “parents.” The inscription on the cartoon read: “Now you know why – No birth certificate.”

The New York Post went well over the line of respectability by publishing a cartoon in 2009, in the wake of Connecticut police shooting a pet chimpanzee, depicting the authors of the stimulus bill as a dead chimpanzee.

And who could forget Rep. Joe Wilson [R-S.C.], interrupting a 2009 presidential address on health care to Congress in by shouting, “You, lie!”

The personal attacks have not been limited to President Obama – his entire family has been attacked.

Last week, Emmy-winning Univision host Rodner Figueroa was fired for saying, “Michelle Obama looks like she’s part of the cast of Planet of the Apes.”

Michael O’Neal, Speaker of the Kansas House, circulated an email referring to the first lady as “Mrs. Yo’ Mama.”

Even Sasha and Malia have been targets of conservatives. They have been upbraided from everything from taking their spring break in the Bahamas to the clothes they wore when their father pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey.

As Media Matters, the watchdog group, stated, “On May 27, [2010] President Obama explained at a press conference that he was reminded daily about the consequences of the oil spill by his daughter Malia who asked him did you plug the hole yet? while he was shaving.”

Both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh saw fit to imitate Malia on air.

No stunt is too low or too vile for conservatives who hate everything about Obama, including his race.

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

LBJ's Defenders Cheapen his Accomplishments

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(NNPA) Lyndon B. Johnson has done more to help African Americans and poor people than any modern president. But his defenders are cheapening his legacy by inflating his accomplishments, which is an insult to the people – Black and White – who lost their lives fighting for civil rights.

The first and most obnoxious example of a LBJ supporter becoming unhinged is Joseph A. Califano, Jr., President Johnson’s domestic policy adviser from 1965 to 1969.

In a column for the Washington Post, he wrote: “In fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted – and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.”

The idea of a Selma-to-Montgomery March actually originated in Marion, Ala., about 30 miles northwest of Selma, with the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Marchers were protesting the arrest of James Orange, a key Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) field organizer. In fact, they were marching from Zion Chapel Methodist Church a short distance to the jail when Jackson was killed by an Alabama State Trooper James Bonard Fowler. At the time, he was trying to defend his 82-year old grandfather, a scene vividly captured in the movie, “Selma.” The account is also recounted in Selma 1965: The March That Changed the South by Charles E. Fager.

Instead of a traditional funeral, the idea was proposed to march to Montgomery and present Jackson’s body to Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace at the state capitol. Wiser minds prevailed and the idea was refined to hold a traditional funeral for Jimmie Lee Jackson and march 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery to demand full voting rights for Blacks.

It was the death of 26-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson that inspired the Selma to Montgomery March, not an “idea” floating around in LBJ’s head. Neither Califano nor anyone else is entitled to use the blood of the Civil Rights Movement to create a myth that is contrary to history and common sense.

The most recent attempt to super-size LBJ’s legacy is the assertion that it was the former president’s idea to include Latinos in the Civil Rights Movement.

An Associated Press story noted, “While this week’s commemorations of the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ may invoke memories of historic events in which the ‘real hero,’ as Johnson said, was ‘the American Negro,’ little is said about Johnson’s call in that speech to include Mexican-Americans in the struggle for equality.”

The story added, “Appalled by the brutality in Selma, Johnson viewed it as an opportunity to ‘liberate himself’ by linking the voting rights struggle with the struggles, 37 years earlier, of his poorest [Latino] students in Cotulla…”

Dr. King worked hard to build coalitions with other groups, including Latinos. In fact, many were in attendance in great numbers at the 1963 March on Washington.

Former New York City Councilman Gerena Valentín said, “Martin Luther King Jr. invited me to Atlanta, Ga., to discuss the march that was being organized, and I went there with a strong team. He personally invited me to organize the Latinos in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, and so I did.”

King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech – made two years before the Selma to Montgomery March – was a broad appeal for justice for “all of God’s children.”

So it’s preposterous to suggest that it was President Johnson’s idea to include “Mexican-Americans in the struggle for equality.”

The reality is that Johnson was anything but a civil rights advocate in Congress.

PoliticFact.com, the fact-checking site, noted that Robert Caro, LBJ’s biographer, said: “for eleven years he had voted against every civil rights bill – against not only legislation aimed at ending the poll tax and segregation in the armed services but even against legislation aimed at ending lynching: a one hundred percent record.

“Running for the Senate in 1948, he had assailed President Harry Truman’s entire civil rights program (‘an effort to set up a police state’)…Until 1957, in the Senate, as in the House, his record – by that time a twenty-year record – against civil rights had been consistent.”

Luci Baines Johnson accepted an award from march organizers Sunday morning in Selma on behalf of her father, saying, “It means the world to me to know that a half-century later you remember how deeply Daddy cared about social justice and how hard he worked to make it happen.”

It was only after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and Johnson’s elevation from vice president that he overcame his past, signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Those three laws forever changed the United States for the better. LBJ’s legacy is firmly established. He doesn’t need his supporters to lie about his record in order to enlarge his reputation. 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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