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George Curry

Lessons from Mark Essex and Christopher Dorner

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(NNPA) Over a 43-year career in journalism, I have been blessed with some memorable experiences: I have covered presidential and vice presidential campaigns, I have flown on Air Force One, I have gone to parties at the White House, met Pope John Paul II, spent two weeks in Egypt, visited former slave dungeons in Dakar and Accra and have traveled around the world, including Rome, Paris, London, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Havana, Vienna and recently Beijing and Shanghai.

Of the thousands of stories I covered since I began my career in 1970 – primarily for Sports Illustrated, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Chicago Tribune, Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service – one has affected me more than any other. It was the violent death of 23-year-old Mark Essex on Jan. 7, 1973.

Essex, who was known as the New Orleans Sniper, killed nine innocent people, including five police officers, and wounded 13 others. I was sent to Emporia, Kan. to interview relatives and friends in an effort to learn what triggered Essex’s outburst. What has stayed with me over the years is not the carnage he inflicted – though that’s unforgettable – it’s the events that led up to that point. Essentially, Essex felt that he had been harassed in the Navy, an account partly supported by friends, and he became so embittered that he was ready to die.

In fact, that’s exactly what he wrote home to his parents shortly before his death. I interviewed Essex’s mother and father after his bullet-riddled body was pulled from the roof of the Howard Johnson Hotel and sent back to Emporia for burial. Family members told me how a quiet, happy go lucky youth became embittered in the Navy. So bitter that he began hating all White people and was never the same again.

I suspect the reason the story has stuck with me for four decades is because I realized that had I not been able to handle the stifling racism while growing up in segregated Tuscaloosa, Ala. during the 1950s and 1960s, that could have been me. Because I had relatives and adults who coached me on how to deal with overt racism, I didn’t go down that bloody path.

When I first heard about Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles cop who also went on a murder spree, I was reminded of Mark Essex. Like Essex, he complained of reporting racist acts to his supervisor and nothing was done about it. His manifesto, while rambling, gave clear details of his torment.

Dorner wrote about a White police officer using the n-word. Dorner said when he challenged the officer to not use the word in his presence, the officer replied, “I’ll say it when I want.” At that point, Dorner said he jumped over the passenger seat and began strangling the officer until they were separated by other cops.

Dorner also wrote about the blue line, the code of ethics that prevents cops from testifying against one another, even when that officer is wrong.

Interestingly, while in the midst of killing innocent people, both Essex and Dorner spared some lives. In his case, Dorner did not shoot the person whose vehicle he hijacked toward the end of the police chase. He also did not harm two maids who had arrived to clean the cabin he had staked out in the mountains.

At the Howard Johnson hotel in New Orleans, a Black maid said Essex told her, “Don’t worry. We’re not killing Blacks today, just Whites.”

In the aftermath of the deaths of Mark Essex and Christopher Dorner, there is something we can take away from their lives.

One of our greatest challenges when dealing with young people, especially, is that we must teach them how to survive life’s slings and arrows without going over the edge. It would be interesting if community-wide forums were organized for young people to listen to what their elders went through. Not just listen to them, but learn from them.

Alex Haley said his grandmother taught him to listen more than he spoke. She said if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, He would have given us two mouths and one ear.

Like you, I don’t know exactly how we can prevent people from resorting to self-destructive deadly violence. But I know we must start somewhere in our community – whether it’s school, church, home, community centers or a combination.

In an interview Sunday night with blog radio host Zandra Conway, we discussed various coping techniques. I told her that whenever I feel down, I always visualize life as a Ferris wheel. I try to hold on while I am at the bottom because sooner or later, I will glide back to the top.

How do you manage to cope during difficult times? Don’t tell me, tell someone close to you. It just might save their life.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) 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.

Lil Wayne Insults the Memory of Emmett Till

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(NNPA) The murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was a watershed moment, marking the beginning of the modern Civil Rights Movement. While visiting relatives near Money, Miss., the Chicago native was murdered for allegedly whistling at a White woman. The brutal act was intended to send an unmistakable message to Black boys everywhere: If you even whistle at a White woman in the Deep South, you could pay for it with your life.

Like everyone else, I was appalled to learn that rapper Lil Wayne had made a vulgar reference to Till’s death. On a re-mix of an upcoming CD by Future called “Karate Chop,” Lil Wayne essentially spewed the line: “Beat that [female sex organ] up like Emmett Till.”

When I sat down to write this column, I planned to excoriate Little Wayne about his insult. I started to remind him that musical artists don’t have to be ignorant fools, even while showing their underwear on stage. I was going to say that Curtis Mayfield of my era and Chuck D of his generation demonstrated that African-American artists can make good music and provide uplifting race-conscious lyrics at the same time.

Rather than spend another nanosecond on Lil Wayne, we should use this Black History Month moment to educate young people who may not have ever heard of Emmett Till. While serving as editor of Emerge magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. Mamie Till Mobley, Emmett’s mother. For the 40th anniversary of his death in 1995, I wrote a story on Emmett Till.

This is how it began:

Mamie Till Bradley was about to experience a mother’s worst nightmare. She had to identify the corpse of her only child, 14-year-old Emmett Till, who had been abducted, beaten, shot in the head and tossed into the Tallahatchie River near Greenwood, Miss., for allegedly whistling at a White woman.

As she approached the cold, metal slab that held the mutilated body at A. A. Rayner & Sons funeral home in Chicago, the grieving mother thought to herself: “I got a job to do and it’s not going to be easy.”

Mamie Till wanted to look directly into her son’s face, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Not yet. So she started with the lower extremities and worked her way up.

“Those are his feet,” she concluded. The ankles? Yes, those were her son’s skinny ankles. Next, she surveyed the knees. Most people have sharp, pointed kneecaps. But the mother and son had flat ones. “Those are the Till knees,” she told herself.

Her eyes continued up her son’s body and stopped on his genitals. Later, she would be happy that her inspection included that section of her son’s body because some people later would say, incorrectly, that Emmett had been castrated. Now, she would know otherwise.

Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley Mobley — who will be called Mrs. Till hereafter to make it easier to follow the cast of characters in this drama — examined Emmett’s hands and arms, which provided more confirmation of what she did not want confirmed. Finally, she took a deep breath and looked at her son’s decomposed face. This, too, she did piece by piece, separating his face into imaginary compartments, starting with his chin and moving to the top of his head.

“Bo,” as he was known, had flashed a perfect set of teeth during his short life. Now, in death, only one or two were visible. “Oh, my God,” his mother thought. “Where are the rest of them?”

The bridge of his nose, though all chopped up, was recognizable. She looked for his right eye — it was missing. There was only an empty socket. She looked at the left one and it was detached, dangling from the socket.

“That’s his hazel eye,” Mrs. Till said. “Where is the other one?”

She searched for one ear and it, too, was missing. Peering through the ear hole, she could see daylight on the other side. The remaining ear protruded from her son’s head, just like hers— another family trait. “That’s Emmett’s ear,” she said, softly.

His hair? Yes.

After inspecting the outstretched body inch by inch, Mrs. Till came to the sad but inescapable conclusion that the remains of what remained before her were those of Emmett Louis Till. Still, she turned to Gene Mobley, later to become her third husband, hoping he might have noticed something that she had not, anything that would cast the slightest doubt about whether this was indeed Bo. But Mobley had identified young Till in his mind long before the child’s mother had finished her methodical examination. The barber had recognized the haircut he had given Emmett two weeks earlier, just before Bo left for Mississippi.

Mrs. Till had one thought over and over: What kind of person could do this to another human being, especially a 14–year–old boy?

Her second thought was that this was a sight so ghastly, so inhumane that people would have to see it for themselves to believe it.

“Gene, I want you to go home and get some of Bo’s pictures,” she said. “We’ll spread the pictures around.”

The undertaker politely asked, “Do you want me to fix him up?” Mrs. Till did not hesitate: “No, you can’t fix that. Let the world see what I saw.”

Obviously, Lil Wayne never saw that story. If he had, he would have realized this isn’t something to be taken lightly.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) 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.

Killing Black Teens – Literally

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(NNPA) The death of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student at King College Prep High School on Chicago’s South Side is finally receiving the national attention that it deserves. An honor student and majorette in her school’s marching band, Hadiya had recently participated in President Obama’s inaugural parade in the nation’s capital.

After leaving school on Jan. 29, Hadiya was shot and killed in a park after she and friends sought shelter under a canopy when it began raining. She was killed about a mile from Obama’s Chicago home. Hadiya’s father, Nathaniel Pendleton, summed up his loss this way: “They took the light of my life…She was destined for great things and you stripped that from her.”

First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett attended Hadiya’s funeral on Saturday. Her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, was a guest of the Obamas at Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The president is scheduled to visit Chicago on Friday where he will deliver a major address on gun violence that is certain to contain a mention of Hadiya. It’s fitting that Obama return to his adopted home town to make his case against deadly violence.

According to statistics analyzed by the Chicago Reporter, more young people are killed in Chicago than any other city in the nation. More than 530 people under 21 years old have been killed since 2008 – most of them in Black and Brown neighborhoods – while hundreds of others have been injured. According to the newspaper, nearly 80 percent of youth homicides occur in 22 Black or Latino neighborhoods on the city’s South, Southwest and West sides, even though those communities represent only one-third of Chicago’s population.”

Young people are not only the victims of gun violence – they are usually the ones who pull the trigger.

“From 2008 through 2012, nearly half of Chicago’s 2,389 homicide victims were killed before their 25th birthday. In 2011, the most recent year for which the data were available, more than 56 percent of individuals who committed murder were also under 25. One-third of Chicago residents are under 25, according to 2011 Census estimates,” the Chicago Reporter states. “And despite various police strategies and community efforts, things are getting worse. Last year, 243 people under 25 were killed in Chicago. That’s an 11 percent increase over 2011 and a 26 percent jump from 2010.”

Chicago homicides are not limited to the youth.

The Reporter also noted, “In 2012, not only did Chicago lead the nation in homicides, it witnessed nearly 100 more murders than New York City, even though the Big Apple has three times as many residents. And Chicago witnessed 215 more murders than Los Angeles – home to more than a million more people.”

Because of highly-publicized mass murders – including shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.; a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; Fort Hood, Texas and Virginia Tech – much of the gun debate has centered on reducing or eliminating access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

While those are laudable goals, some police chiefs have pointed out that handguns kill far more people than assault weapons.

In its latest report titled, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States: An Analysis of 2010 Homicide Data,” the Violence Policy Center reported: “For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 83 percent of black victims (5,073 out of 6,149) were shot and killed with guns. Of these, 72 percent (3,658 victims) were killed with handguns. There were 617 victims killed with knives or other cutting instruments, 219 victims killed by bodily force, and 162 victims killed by a blunt object.”

Overall, Blacks are more than six times more likely to be homicide victims than Whites.

Citing FBI crime reports, the Violence Policy Center observed, “…In 2010 there were 6,469 black homicide victims in the United States. The homicide rate among black victims in the United States was 16.32 per 100,000. For that year, the overall national homicide rate was 4.42 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide rate was 2.66 per 100,000.”

In addition to the need to address handgun violence, President Obama, Congress and law enforcement officials should acknowledge that violence is a serious problem and more often than not, the victim knew or had a relationship with the person who killed them.

“For homicides in which the victim to offender relationship could be identified, 70 percent of black victims (2,146 out of 3,058) were murdered by someone they knew. Nine hundred twelve victims were killed by strangers,” the Violence Policy Center report stated.

If this country is serious about curbing murders, it must focus on tragic deaths, such as the murder of Hadiya Pendleton and 20 young kids in Newtown, Conn. But it must also deal with handguns and the murder of people who have or have had a relationship with their killer. Otherwise, all the tough talk on reducing violence is empty rhetoric.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) 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.

Black History Month by the Numbers

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The U.S. Census Bureau has released the following figures about Black America to coincide with African American History Month. If found them interesting enough to share.

Population

43.9 million

The number of Blacks, either alone or in combination with one or more other races, on July 1, 2011, up 1.6 percent from the census on April 1, 2010. Source: Population Estimates

http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-90.html

77.4 million

The projected Black population of the United States (including those of more than one race) for July 1, 2060. On that date, according to the projection, Blacks would constitute 18.4 percent of the nation’s total population. Source: Population projections

http://www.census.gov/population/projections/data/national/2012/summarytables.html

3.7 million

The Black population in New York, which led all states as of July 1, 2011. Texas had the largest numeric increase since April 1, 2010 (84,000). The District of Columbia had the highest percentage of Blacks (52.2 percent), followed by Mississippi (38.0 percent). Source: Population Estimates

http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-90.html

1.3 million

The Black population in Cook, Ill., which had the largest Black population of any county in 2011. Fulton, Ga., had the largest numeric increase since 2010 (13,000). Holmes, Miss., was the county with the highest percentage of Blacks in the nation (82.9 percent). Source: Population Estimates

http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb12-90.html

Serving Our Nation

2.3 million

Number of Black military veterans in the United States in 2011. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

ttp://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/11_1YR/S0201//popgroup~004

Education

82.5%

The percentage of Blacks 25 and older with a high school diploma or higher in 2011. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/11_1YR/S0201//popgroup~004

18.4%

The percentage of Blacks 25 and older who had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2011. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

http://factfinder2.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/11_1YR/S0201//popgroup~004

1.6 million

Among Blacks 25 and older, the number who had an advanced degree in 2011. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

3.1 million

http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/historical/index.html

Number of Blacks enrolled in college in 2011, a 74.0 percent increase since 2001. Source: 2011 Current Population Survey, Table A1

 

Voting

11.1 million

The number of Blacks who voted in the 2010 congressional election, an increase from 10 percent of the total electorate in 2006 to 12 percent in 2010. Source: Voting and Registration in the Election of 2010

55%

Turnout rate in the 2008 presidential election for the 18- to 24-year-old citizen Black population, an 8 percentage point increase from 2004. Blacks had the highest turnout rate in this age group. Source: Voting and Registration in the Election of 2008

 

65%

Turnout rate among Black citizens regardless of age in the 2008 presidential election, up about 5 percentage points from 2004. Looking at voter turnout by race and Hispanic origin, non-Hispanic whites and Blacks had the highest turnout levels. Source: Voting and Registration in the Election of 2008

Income, Poverty and Health Insurance

$32,229

The annual median income of Black households in 2011, a decline of 2.7 percent from 2010. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011

27.6%

Poverty rate in 2011 for Blacks. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011

80.5%

Percentage of Blacks that were covered by health insurance during all or part of 2011. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States : 2011

Families and Children

61.9%

Among households with a Black householder, the percentage that contained a family in 2012. There were 9.7 million Black family households. Source: 2012 Current Population Survey, Families and Living

Arrangements, Table F1 and Table HH-2

45.2%

Among families with Black householders, the percentage that were married couples in 2012. Source: 2012 Current Population Survey, Families and Living Arrangements, Table F1

 

1.2 million

Number of Black grandparents who lived with their own grandchildren younger than 18 in 2011. Of this number, 48.5 percent were also responsible for their care. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

Homeownership

43.4% Nationally, the percentage of households with a householder who was Black who lived in owner-occupied homes in 2011. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

 

Jobs

28.2%

The percentage of Blacks 16 and older who worked in management, business, science and arts occupations. Source: 2011 American Community Survey

Businesses

$135.7 billion

Receipts for Black-owned businesses in 2007, up 53.1 percent from 2002. The number of Black-owned businesses totaled 1.9 million in 2007, up 60.5 percent. Source: 2007 Survey of Business Owners

37.7%

Percentage of Black-owned businesses in 2007 in health care and social assistance, repair and maintenance, and personal and laundry services. Source: 2007 Survey of Business Owners

10.6%

Percentage of all Black-owned firms operating in 2007 in New York, which led all states or state-equivalents. Georgia and Florida followed, at 9.6 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively. Source: 2007 Survey of Business Owners

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) 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.

Obama Races Away from the Issue of Race

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(NNPA) When Barack Obama accepted his party’s presidential nomination in Denver on August 28, 2008 – the 45th anniversary of the March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech” – excitement filled the air.

Amid that jubilance, however, it struck me as odd that Obama failed to mention Dr. King by name.

“.. And it is that promise that, 45 years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream,” Obama said at the time.

Seconds later, he would add: “’We cannot walk alone,’” the preacher cried. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

When Obama was inaugurated for the second time on January 21, 2013, the day we officially celebrated as the King federal holiday, I knew – or thought I knew – that President Obama would not make that same omission again.

I listened carefully as he said: “We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.”

Why couldn’t President Obama utter Dr. King’s name on the day he used the slain civil rights leader’s Bible to be sworn in? On King’s birthday, why couldn’t he be called more than just a preacher?

Even though Beyoncé lip-synced the National Anthem on Inauguration Day, she hasn’t been accused of faking it when she sings another song – “Say My Name.”

If you ain’t running a game

Say my name, say my name

The problem is larger than the failure to say Dr. King’s name. The problem, according to Michael Eric Dyson, is that, “This president runs from race like a Black man runs from a cop.”

When candidate Obama was forced to address the issue of race in the wake of controversial remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor, he said in Philadelphia: “But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now.”

However, that’s exactly what he has been doing.

Frederick C. Harris, director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, noted, “… as president, Mr. Obama has had little to say on concerns specific to blacks. His State of the Union address in 2011 was the first by any president since 1948 to not mention poverty or the poor. The political scientist Daniel Q. Gillion found that Mr. Obama, in his first two years in office, talked about race less than any Democratic president had since 1961. From racial profiling to mass incarceration to affirmative action, his comments have been sparse and halting.”

Sure, he had a beer summit at the White House with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and the White police officer who arrested him in his own home. Obama said the officer had “acted stupidly,” but later softened his criticism. The president also said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon [Martin].”

Of course, the issue is not whether Obama has a son who looks like Trayvon Martin. What is he going to do about people who are treated like Trayvon?

To discuss race less than Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all White southerners who grew up under segregation, should be embarrassing to President Obama. It should be even more of an embarrassment that Obama hasn’t taken leadership on the issue as Bill Clinton did when he launched his “One America Initiative” on race. Putting aside the merits of the initiative, it demonstrated Clinton was willing to confront the issue of race.

As my friend Courtland Milloy wrote in the Washington Post, it’s time to stop making excuses for Obama.

He said, “Obama should not be allowed to get away with thinking that when it comes to making his mark on the issue of race, all he had to do was become the first black president.”

Unfortunately, some of the most vocal Black leaders have either been co-opted by the White House or fear a backlash from adoring Black voters.

The usually outspoken Rep. Maxine Waters [D-Calif.] told a crowd in Detroit, “If we go after the president too hard, you’re going after us.”

And former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, II of Missouri admitted, “With 14 percent [black] unemployment if we had a white president we’d be marching around the White House.”

If we don’t get some true leadership on this issue, perhaps it will be time to march around the White House, Congress and the headquarters of some of our civil rights organizations.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) 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.

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