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George Curry

Spying on Sharpton and Other Black Leaders

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(NNPA) A recent report that New York City Police Department may have spied on Al Sharpton as he prepared to protest the acquittal of three police officers in the 2006 shooting death of Sean Bell brings back memories of a carefully-orchestrated national effort to discredit civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his NYPD Confidential column, posted on the Huffington Post under the headline, “Spying on the Rev.,” veteran police reporter Len Levitt wrote: “A NYPD informant spied on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network [NAN] as the group was organizing large-scale protests of the Sean Bell case acquittals, a police document shows.”

It continued, “The confidential informant infiltrated a NAN meeting on May 3, 2008, and reported back to the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, according to a document marked ‘secret,’ which was obtained by NYPD Confidential.”

At the time, Sharpton was planning to create a city-wide traffic jam because three plainclothes and undercover officers had killed an unarmed Bell after he left his bachelor’s party at a club in Queens. According to authorities, Bell and two of his friends were shot 50 times. On April 25, three police officers indicted in the case were acquitted of all charges.

“According to the police document, the informant, who was identified not by name but by a five-digit number given to him by the department, provided the NYPD with a detailed description of NAN’s protest plans, including the names of prominent African-Americans set to participate, the locations where protestors would gather and the number of demonstrators who would offer themselves up for arrest,” the story recounted.

Sharpton and nearly 200 protesters were arrested after they brought the city to a halt by blocking major traffic arteries.

Although he gets the headline, this is not about Al Sharpton. Rather, it is about the reprehensible practice by the FBI and local police departments to undermine legal and legitimate protests.

From 1956 to 1971, the FBI operated a program called COINTELPRO, an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program. Initially established to spy on organizations suspected of communist ties, the program was expanded by J. Edgar Hoover to include the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Lawyers Guild and other left-leaning groups.

A congressional committee, chaired by Senator Frank Church, issued a report that concluded, “Many of the techniques used would be intolerable in a democratic society even if all of the targets had been involved in violent activity, but COINTELPRO went far beyond that…the Bureau conducted a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association, on the theory that preventing the growth of dangerous groups and the propagation of dangerous ideas protect the national security and deter violence.”

The stated goal of COINTELPRO was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, or otherwise neutralize” organizations that it deemed “subversive.”

A book titled, The Lawless State: The Crimes of the U.S. Intelligence Agencies, states: “Officials of the nation’s number one law enforcement agency agreed to use ‘all available investigative techniques’ to develop information for the use ‘to discredit’ King. Proposals discussed included using ministers, ‘disgruntled’ acquaintances, ‘aggressive’ newsmen, ‘colored’ agents, Dr. King’s housekeeper, and even Dr. King’s wife, or ‘placing a good-looking female plant in King’s office’ to develop discrediting information and to take action that would lead to his disgrace.”

The FBI taped what it said were Dr. King’s extramarital sexual encounters.

The book recalled, “Unknown to King…the FBI, at the height of the public controversy, took its most distressing step. It mailed the tapes to the SCLC office in Atlanta with a covering letter urging King to commit suicide or face public revelation of the information on the tapes on the eve of the [Nobel Peace Prize] award ceremonies in Sweden.”

Although COINTELPRO is supposedly a thing of the past, its dirty tricks continue to be practiced today.

In one of his racist rants, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote in the 1990s – or had someone else write under his name – that Dr. King was a “world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours.” In the same breath, he claimed that Dr. King “seduced underage girls and boys.”

It’s a vile and patently false allegation, but the intent was to smear Dr. King, not tell the truth.

A similar campaign was apparently underway to discredit Sharpton.

The news story disclosing that NYPD spied on Sharpton also stated, “Two undercover police officers who spied on black protest groups in the 1980s told this reporter in 1998 that the department was so intent on discrediting Sharpton that they were tasked by their superiors to spread rumors that he was homosexual.”

As one who has covered the Civil Rights Movement for four decades, I’ve heard a lot of rumors that never made it into print. At no time, however, have I ever heard a faint suggestion that Sharpton might be gay. But that’s how these vicious rumors are designed to work. It doesn’t matter whether something is demonstrably false – the idea is to raise enough doubt in some people’s mind and the mission would have been accomplished.

To paraphrase former President George W. Bush: Mission Not Accomplished.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Maryland HBCU Desegregation Trial Nearing an End

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(NNPA) After six weeks of testimony, a major trial to determine whether Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been routinely denied funding and other needed resources that would have made them “comparable and competitive” with White universities in the state is expected to end this week, with a ruling expected by this summer.

The overwhelming majority of HBCUs, originally established shortly after the Civil War to prevent African-Americans from attending all-White state universities, are located in the South. The Maryland case (Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al.) has attracted national attention, in part, because it involves a border state that, like the South, operated a rigidly segregated school system, but unlike the South, has largely escaped intense public scrutiny.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake presided over the non-jury trial in Baltimore. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs was Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Pro bono work was provided by lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis law firm and the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The suit was originally filed in 2006 by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., a community-based group comprised of alumni of public HBCUs in Maryland and other interested parties. It is seeking approximately $2.1 billion to upgrade the four state HBCUs: Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.

Named as major defendants are officials of the University of Maryland Higher Education Commission, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Secretary of Higher Education James E. Lyons, Sr.

The state of Maryland’s higher education system has a long history of racial segregation, according to witnesses and court documents.

“Throughout its history, Maryland has systematically engaged in policies and practices that established and perpetuated a racially segregated system of higher education,” the suit asserts. “Maryland first instituted its system of public higher education in 1807 by establishing the University of Maryland at Baltimore. This was a White-only institution.

“Maryland subsequently established four other White-only, public institutions of higher education: the University of Maryland, established in 1865; Towson University, established in 1866, Frostburgh State University, established in 1898; and Salisbury State University, established in 1922,” the suit continued. “The state began its dual-system by assuming control of The Baltimore Normal School, an all Black teacher’s school now known as Bowie State University. This was the beginning of Maryland’s segregated system of higher education.”

Maryland was forced to expand educational opportunities for Blacks in order to qualify for federal land-grant funds. That led to the state also acquiring what is now the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Morgan State University and adding Coppin State University in 1950.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued its Brown v. Board of Education ruling, holding that segregated school systems violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. “Following Brown, Maryland did nothing more than lift the rule excluding Black students from White schools,” the lawsuit recounts.

After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the state ended de jure segregation, opening the doors for African-Americans to attend all-White public universities.

“In 1965, however, rather than encourage integration at Morgan State, Maryland established University of Maryland Baltimore County (“UMBC”). UMBC was a complete duplication of Morgan State’s entire institution, not just its programs,” the lawsuit stated.

In 1969, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights notified the state of Maryland that it was one of 10 states operating a racially segregated system of higher education in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two decades later, the only two states in the group still in noncompliance were Maryland and Mississippi.

Facing the possibility of losing all federal education funds, Maryland reached agreements with the U.S. Department of Education in 1982 and again in 1985. The later called for “the enhancement of HBCUs to ensure that they are comparable and competitive with TWIs [traditionally White institutions] with respect to capital facilities, operating budgets and new academic programs.”

A major component of the plan to strengthen HBCs and encourage more Whites to attend them called for the avoiding program duplication at nearby White universities.

However, Maryland allowed the creation of an engineering program at UMBC that duplicated an offering by Morgan State. Salisbury University was permitted to offer a computer science degree that was already being offered by University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. Especially controversial was the decision made by the state in 2005 to allow Towson University and the University of Baltimore to operate a joint Masters in Business Administration program, which had been offered by Morgan State since 1964. Overall, more than a half dozen programs at TWIs duplicated programs already in existence at Maryland’s HBCUs.

Testifying as an expert witness, University of Wisconsin Education Professor Clifton F. Conrad said that the state of Maryland still operates a segregated higher education system.

“The dual education systems remain,” he testified. “There continues to be substantial differences – severe differences – in terms of the number of programs and the quality of programs. Those students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Lies Pollute Republican Presidential Debates

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(NNPA) How can you tell when politicians are lying? Answer: When they moves their lips. Until now, that had been considered a joke. Today, however, that seems especially true when listening to Republicans seeking their party’s presidential nomination.

Thanks to FactCheck.org, sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center the University of Pennsylvania; PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-Prize winning site operated by the Tampa Bay Times and the Washington Post’s The Fact Checker blog, it’s easier to catch politicians in lies. Here are some notable examples:

“We’re only inches away from no longer being a free economy.”

- Mitt Romney, Republican debate Jan. 7 in Manchester, N.H.

PolitiFact:

“…There’s strong evidence undercutting Romney’s claim that comes from, of all places, the conservative Heritage Foundation. Heritage published an economic freedom index for 2011 – an international ranking of nations using a combination of 10 types of statistics, covering business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government spending, monetary freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, freedom from corruption and labor freedom…The U.S. ranked ninth out of 179 nations on the list, with a score that placed it near the top of the ‘mostly free’ category. The only nations to be considered more ‘free’ than the U.S. were, in descending order, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Canada, Ireland, and Denmark.

“If the results of this study – which, we’ll remind readers, was produced by a staunchly conservative think tank – suggest that the U.S. is on the verge of socialism, then Lenin must be partying in his mausoleum.”

“I was talking to a state official the other day in Iowa that told me that the state of Iowa is being fined because they’re not signing up enough people on to the Medicaid program.”

— Rick Santorum, CNN debate Jan. 19 in Charleston, S.C.

The FactChecker:

“Santorum has made this puzzling comment before. ABC News investigated and found there was little to it. ‘Iowa, like other states, receives federal reimbursement for the money it disburses in Medicaid fees,’ Huma Khan reported. ‘There is no quota system or target that the state has to meet in order to be eligible for federal money. The amount of money that each state receives is dependent on its economy.’ She quoted a state official as saying that any reduction in payments ‘is not a punishment. This is a recognition that Iowa’s economy is improving relative to other states.’”

“Under Jimmy Carter, we had the wrong laws, the wrong regulations, the wrong leadership, and we killed jobs. We had inflation. We went to 10.8 percent unemployment.”

— Gingrich, Charleston debate

The Fact Checker:

“Actually, unemployment reached 10.8 percent during the term of Gingrich’s hero, Ronald Reagan. The unemployment rate did not get higher than 7.8 percent under Carter.”

“I could have stayed in Detroit like [Romney’s father] and gotten pulled up in a car company. I went off on my own. I didn’t inherit money from my parents. What I have I earned, I worked hard, the American way.”

— Romney, Charleston debate

The Fact Checker:

“No one questions that Romney earned huge sums on his own – he is now worth an estimated $200 million or more – but he has been inconsistent in the past on the question of his inheritance. He has said he did inherit money but gave it away.

“In a 2006 interview with C-SPAN, he said that ‘I did inherit some funds from my dad. But I turned and gave that away to charity. In this case I gave it to a school which Brigham Young University established in his honor, the George W. Romney School of Public Management.’

“More recently, in an interview with Reuters, he said: ‘What I got from my parents when they passed away I gave away to charity and to my kids.’ Moreover, The Boston Globe and the new book The Real Romney have reported that he lived off stock investments as a college student and he received a loan from his father to buy his first house.”

“Any child born prematurely, according to the president, in his own words, can be killed.”

- Rick Santorum in a speech March 7 to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.

PolitiFact:

“We researched Obama’s position on ‘born alive’ legislation extensively during the presidential campaign. Obama favors abortion rights generally, and he opposed the state version of Illinois’ ‘born alive’ measure as a state senator. But he never said that premature children, even those who survived an abortion, could be killed.”

“More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

Newt Gingrich, Republican debate Jan. 11 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

FactCheck.org:

“…Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that. And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.”

Don’t believe every word that leaves from a politician’s lips.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

A Diverse U.S. Population Will Not Guarantee Parity

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(NNPA) The United States’ population is growing increasingly diverse, but the sharp demographic shift is unlikely to close the huge economic gap between Whites and people of color, according to an annual report issued by United For a Fair Economy, a nonpartisan think tank that studies wealth and power in the U.S.

Each year the Boston-based organization issues its “State of the Dream” report near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Citing Census Bureau figures, the report notes that Whites constituted 80 percent of the U.S. population in 1980. By 2010, that figure had slipped to 65 percent. And by 2042, Whites will become a minority for the first time since the Colonial days.

“If the trends in racial economic inequality continue at the rate that they have since 1980, the changing demographics of the country will produce a vast racialized underclass that will persist even after the majority of the country is non-White,” the report concluded.

Examples of racial and ethnic inequality in the U.S. include:

In 2010, the median family income of Black and Latino families was 57 cents to every dollar of White median family income. By 2042, the median Black family will earn approximately 61 cents for every dollar of income earned by Whites. Latino families are projected to earn only 45 cents in 2042 on every dollar of White median family income.

The wealth gap is particularly disturbing. In 2007, at the height of the housing bubble, the average White family net worth was five times greater than the average Black net worth and more than 3.5 times the average Latino net worth. If current trends continue, the report states, Black families will by 2042 accumulate 19 cents for each dollar of White net worth. Latinos will have 25 cents per dollar. That means the wealth gap between Whites and people of color in 2042 will be even larger than it is today.

Education is the most important tool we have to expand social mobility Thanks to civil rights gains, affirmative action and other progress, Black adults are 60 percent as likely to have a college degree as White adults; Latinos are only 42 percent as likely. If current trends continue, by 2042, African-Americans will continue to make progress in closing the education gap. However, the gap will be even larger for Latinos.

People of color represent more than 65 percent of the prison population, largely because of harsh drug laws and selective prosecutions that are part of the war on drugs. Blacks are six times more likely to be in prison than Whites. Roughly 65 percent of Black men born since the mid-1970s have prison records. The report observes, “If current trends continue to 2042, the percentage of people of color who have experienced jail time will dwarf even that number.”

To reduce what it calls the “perverse concentration of wealth and power in the U.S.,” the report declares, “We need nothing less than a diverse, powerful social movement dedicated to advancing meaningful policy solutions on many fronts to reduce the racial divide.”

It will take a powerful movement to counter to corrupting influence that money has on politics.

“To gain political power necessary to make significant progress toward racial economic equality, the influence of money in politics must be reduced and voting rights for all Americans must be restored and protected,” the reports observes. “Eliminating racial inequality will require a powerful and sustained political movement, aligned not just along the lines of race, but also by economic interests.”

Authors of the report noted that the Occupy Wall Street movement and similar efforts around the country are steps in the right direction toward building a broad coalition.

In the aftermath of King Day celebrations, it is important to remember that Dr. King was organizing a Poor People’s Campaign at the time of his assassination. Encouraged by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1968, he was creating a movement to address economic injustice.

In his last speech on the eve of his assassination, referred to as the “Mountain Top” speech, Dr. King talked about the need to support Black business. He said, “We begin the process of building a greater economic base.”

Picking up where King left off, the report stated, “It is a moral and economic imperative that we address the racial economic divide now. If we are to chart a path to a more promising future, one in which the racial economic divide is significantly narrowed and prosperity is more broadly shared, then we must take immediate action to ensure that the coming majority is not further burdened by the legacy of racism and White supremacy in the United States.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Surge in Polls Helps Obama's Re-election Prospects

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(NNPA) After winning the show-down with House Republicans shortly before Christmas over extending unemployment insurance and receiving an uptick in his job-approval ratings, President Obama is now in a better position to win re-election, despite a sluggish economy.

With the Iowa caucus over and New Hampshire as the next GOP battleground, Obama is expecting to face former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the general election next November. Former Speaker of House Newt Gingrich, like other candidates before him, briefly assumed the front-runner mantle before his poor performance in Iowa.

The good news for Obama is that his populist themes and his willingness to call out Republicans are winning over voters.

A story in the Washington Post observed: “A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that Americans are still broadly disapproving of Obama’s handling of the economy and jobs, the top issues, but that views of his overall performance have recovered among key groups, including independents, young adults and seniors.”

It noted, “Obama’s job-approval rating is now its highest since March, excluding a temporary bump after the killing of Osama bin Laden: Forty-nine percent approve and 47 percent disapprove.”

The poll, taken Dec. 15-18, found Republican Congressional support has fallen to 20 percent.

Both parties have actively courted middle-class voters. And Obama seems to be winning that matchup as well, according to the Washington Post-ABC News poll. When asked about protecting the middle class, 50 percent of respondents said they trusted Obama over Republicans, who were favored by only 35 percent.

This does not mean that Obama is guaranteed re-election.

While Democrats enjoyed watching Republican candidates form a circular firing squad in Iowa, aided by unprecedented spending by outside groups called super PACs, they realize that once the GOP selects a nominee, all that negative campaigning will be aimed at Obama. A large segment of the GOP hates Mitt Romney, but they hate Obama more.

This will be the first presidential election since a pair of 2010 Supreme Court decision cleared the way for unlimited corporate and individual donations to support independent political organizations. It is estimated that such contributions to candidates seeking federal office could reach $6 billion to $7 billion this year.

On another front, the Washington Post reported Sunday that Republican officials have created a video catalogue of every word Obama has uttered since launching his 2008 presidential campaign.

The story said, “The GOP playbook is designed to take one of Obama’s greatest assets – the power of his oratory – and turn it into a liability.”

One attack on Obama will feature a 2009 clip from the “Today” show in which he said that if he could not fix the economy in three years, “then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the Post, “That’s a clip the American people will hear and see over and over and over again…The nice thing about Barack Obama is that he’s given us plenty of material. The one thing he loves to do is give speeches.”

Obama plans to use even more speeches to argue that he is a stronger advocate for the middle-class and unemployed workers than Republicans. He hopes to depict the GOP as concerned only about the plight of superrich and keeping tax loopholes for large corporations.

Like Harry Truman, who campaigned against a do-nothing Congress, Obama is drawing a sharp contrast between his administration and Republicans. However, Obama can’t totally disassociate himself from Congress if he wants any additional legislative victories. One of his first tests in 2012 will be to obtain a one-year extension of unemployment benefits, which is set to expire in less than two months.

Obama’s team also must do a better job communicating his message if he is to win a second term. Many polls show that although Obama’s personal approval ratings are low, many of the policies he has proposed – including using a combination of higher taxes on the wealthy and spending cuts to lower the deficit – resonate with most voters, including many Republicans.

Both Democrats and Republicans are disappointed that the economy remains sluggish.

When asked on the CBS program “60 Minutes” why he should be re-elected, Obama replied, “Not only saving this country from a Great Depression. Not only saving the auto industry. But putting in place a system in which we’re going to start lowering health care costs and you’re never going to go bankrupt because you get sick or somebody in your family gets sick. Making sure that we have reformed the financial system, so we never again have taxpayer-funded bailouts and the system is more stable and secure. Ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Decimating al Qaeda, including Bin Laden being taken off the field.”

He added, “But when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do. And we’re going to keep on at it.”

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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