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A Black Life is Worth Less than a $50 Box of Cigars?

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(NNPA) Under other circumstances one could simply ridicule the explanations offered by the Ferguson police regarding the killing of Michael Brown. To suggest that the killing was the result of the alleged theft of a $50 box of cigars or, for that matter, an angry exchange in connection with jaywalking, defies belief. To think about the number of people in this country who, in their youth, engaged in some degree of shoplifting or who have jaywalked suggests that there would need to be mass executions on a scale never before seen in the history of humanity.

Clearly, the killing had to do with neither the alleged theft nor alleged jaywalking. It had to do with power and life. The power was the power of a White-dominated police department to assert its total control over the activities of a population that has been largely disenfranchised from a supposed democracy. In that sense, Michael Brown was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That said, while circumstances could have resulted in Brown not having been at that precise location, the reality with which African Americans are all too familiar is that we are all potentially Michael Browns. There are no safety zones; there are no no-shooting zones in the USA when it comes to Black America. It is that point that many Black youth are attempting to capture with photos, tweets and slogans.

The killing was also about life. What White people in the U.S. need to ask themselves is whether there are any circumstances in their respective communities where the killing of a young White man for either allegedly stealing cigars or for getting into an argument with an officer regarding jaywalking would be tolerated. If the answer is “no,” then the follow up question is simple: Why should it be acceptable in African American communities?

The answer is implicit in the reality for African Americans throughout U.S .history: There is not an equivalent value on African American and White life in this society. There is not only the presumption of guilt, when African Americans have an encounter with the police, but an additional presumption that the police are justified in utilizing any means available against a Black alleged criminal, even if no crime has been committed.

Ferguson brought to my mind Gaza and the way in which Palestinian life has no value for the Israeli government. Three Jewish Israeli boys were brutally kidnapped and murdered and the Israeli political establishment decided to unite to punish all Palestinians, and especially those in Gaza, without a shred of evidence. No matter how many Palestinian civilians are killed, it is justified by the Israeli government on the grounds of their need to punish. What is implicit is the math: the deaths of three Jewish Israelis are compensated for by the deaths of more than a 1,900 Palestinians. When the proportions are that extreme the bottom line is simple: Palestinian life holds no value.

Oppression and tyranny can continue and gain popular support when those who are oppressed are deprived of the recognition of their humanity. When African Americans are presumed to be dangerous criminals or when Palestinians are presumed to be murderers, then there is no need for a trial. There is only need for an execution…and be done with it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

From 'Hands Up, Don't Shoot' to 'Hands Up, Vote'

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(NNPA) Out of every momentous national tragedy that Black Americans have continued to endure in the United States, there has always emerged a redeeming moment to push harder and further on the long journey toward freedom, justice and equality. The continuing unrestrained fatal police killings of Black American males in St. Louis County, Missouri is now described as part of a national “open season” to kill Blacks in America. What should we do now? What is the redeeming action that should be taken?

In the aftermath of the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and so many others, what should be our next course of action? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing in his last book, pointed the way.

Writing in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. King stated in 1967: “The persistence of racism in depth and the dawning awareness that Negro demands will necessitate structural changes in society have generated a new phase of white resistance in the North and South.’’

Dr. King’s prophetic words, written 47 years ago, are equally true today. With the “browning of America,” there has been a steady increase in racially-motivated police violence against Blacks and Latinos.

The tragic murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson has reverberated around the world. It is just the latest example of a society that refuses to end racial oppression or acknowledge its racist past. I remember that Dr. King responded to police brutality in the 1960s by telling his followers: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

As we say of faith-witnessing in the Black church tradition, “Lord, have mercy, we sure have received a lot of unearned suffering…… now it is time for us to get some redemption.” This bring me to my central point. With all that is going on in Missouri, Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, New York, California, Louisiana, Illinois, Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, we must transform our anger over police brutality, poverty, and economic inequality into a massive voter turnout. We should be preparing right now in every voting precinct in every congressional district and in every state where we live to have an unprecedented high voter turnout this November. We did it in 2008 we did it in 2012 and we can do it again in 2014.

Too often we live in communities where we have the potential margin of victory for local, congressional, statewide and national elections, but we simply do not go to the polls and vote, even though so many of our people died, bleed, went to jail, and “suffered” for us to get the right to vote. Having a right to vote is not enough. We all must exercise the right to vote not once but in every election. It’s extremely important that we do so this year because people expect us to because Obama’s name will not be on the ballot and mid-term voting is traditionally lower than in presidential years.

Voting our political, economic and spiritual interest is not only “redemptive,” it is also the right thing to do. Very often police officers are not prosecuted for acts of racial violence against Black Americans because locally “elected” prosecutors and district attorneys get elected and stay in office because we do not vote at the rate that we should. Citizens in Ferguson, Mo., a community that is at least 2/3 African American, only vote at a rate of about 12 percent – about a third of their representation in the population. That is a terrible reality that must now change. Understand, I am not saying that voting in record numbers will solve all the problems that we face in America. But what I am saying clearly is that our failure to understand the power of the vote holds back our progress in the United States.

I was so proud to see thousands of people marching nonviolently every day in Ferguson in protest to Michael Brown’s murder. The unified chant, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” captured the energy and aspirations of millions more throughout the country and indeed around the world. Let’s keep that energy going strong. Let’s remain vigilant, vocal and visible. As we move forward over the next 60 days, let’s also organize and mobilize to register to vote and to massively turnout the vote everywhere. Election Day should be Pay Back Day. Let’s also begin to chant “Hands Up, Vote!” Let’s make the difference.

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the Interim President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

Palestinians and the Black American Freedom Struggles

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(NNPA) Knowing of my concern about  justice for the Palestinians, a friend sent me a link the other day regarding Palestine and Black America. [http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/180382/students-justice-palestine#undefined]

The essence of this piece is the author’s allegation that Palestinians cannot and should not compare their struggle to that of the African American struggle for justice. Actually, there is nothing new in this piece. Those who oppose justice for the Palestinians regularly drag out quotes from various historic African American leaders in order to attempt to make their case.  While this may sway some people, it does not settle the matter of whether comparisons of the Palestinian situation and that of African Americans are legitimate.

To consider such comparisons you have to look at a few things.  Let’s start:

  • Beginning in 1947, Palestinians, including Christians and Muslims, were removed from land that they had inhabited for thousands of years.  The Palestinians, by the way, had not just appeared in that portion of the Middle East in the recent past.  It is now clear that, genetically speaking, the Palestinians have their roots in the ancient Hebrews.
  • With the establishment of Israel in 1948, a dual system was implemented that, among other things, permitted the expropriation of Palestinian land for alleged security reasons. The land was not returned to the Palestinians.
  • A dual educational system was established, with Palestinian citizens of Israel receiving inferior and poorly funded education.
  • Israel has held onto land that it captured in the June 1967 war in violation of international law, resolutions and precedent.  It then began a process of settling the land, again, in violation of international law.
  • The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have absolutely no security, with their homes subject to being destroyed or seized, and their land divided.  The creation of the so-called Security Wall does not conform to the 1949 Armistice line but goes through Palestinian territory, frequently cutting off Palestinians from their own land.
  • Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot settle in Israel with a Palestinian spouse who comes from the Occupied Territories.
  • Israel refuses to accept the right of return for Palestinians who were driven from their land–or vacated their lands ‘temporarily’ (they hoped)–in the 1948-49 war or the 1967 war.  Again, this violates international law.

So, the question is really who or what does this sound like?  Does this sound like the workings of a democracy?  Or, in the alternative does it sound more like the experience of Native Americans in the U.S; African Americans in the Jim Crow South; and Africans in apartheid South Africa?

The Palestinians have the right to compare their struggle with ours based on the profound similarities in experience.  This is not a matter of rhetoric or sleight of hand; it is about history and current reality.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist.  He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies.  He can be found on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The GOP: Chaos is Their Goal

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(NNPA) Three events occurred in the tight confines of Capitol Hill last week that underscore the Republican Party’s extraordinary institutional decline and its responsibility for the Congress’ fully deserving its “do-nothing” label.

First, early in the week, all but seven Republicans in the GOP – controlled House of Representatives voted to give Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio the go-ahead to sue President Obama because they claim his executive orders are in violation of the constitution. The purpose of that “political stunt” – the president’s words for the lawsuit, which he and the Democrats have come to relish for the 2014 campaign – is to keep alive the GOP’s rhetoric about impeaching the president if the November elections give them control of the Senate.

Secondly, later in the week Boehner was forced to give up on a GOP-drafted bill to authorize emergency funds for the government’s efforts to cope with the sudden crisis of undocumented immigrant children massing at the U.S-Mexico border. The first-level reason for that stunning rebuke of a Speaker of the House by his own party members was that GOP hard-line conservatives made it clear they wouldn’t vote for their own party’s bill.

But what made the rebuke to Boehner even more humiliating was the week’s third noteworthy event –which was actually a facet the second. That was that the hard-liners had been urged on by the Tea Party’s favorite U.S. Senator, Ted Cruz of Texas. According to numerous media reports, Cruz had met with a dozen or more of the House hard-liners the night before the scheduled July 31 vote to declare his opposition to it. The next day, Boehner, clearly seeing he didn’t have the votes for passage, pulled the bill from consideration.

Boehner allies in the House pledged to try to get a spending measure enacted before Congress broke for the summer recess. But the real point of the week’s developments had been made – reinforcing what has been evident since President Obama took office.

First, in the midst of a crisis, when America’s national government needs to act swiftly, count on the Republican Party, driven by its reflexive anti-Obama mania, to oppose any positive action. Secondly, the GOP, which still boasts about its adherence to tradition and conservative principles, remains wracked by an internal battle between conservative extremists and establishment regulars only slightly less vicious than its war against the president.

That civil war these past six years has produced the electoral primary defeats of such staunch GOP veterans as former Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Richard Lugar of Indiana and, in June, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – all deemed not conservative enough by the GOP’s Tea Party reactionaries.

Cruz, who’s been running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination since his election in 2012, has waged the war of disruption against the GOP congressional establishment in both the House and the Senate in unprecedented fashion. From the first, he’s been eager to show his disrespect of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Boehner. His meddling in House matters last week marks the second time he’s undercut Boehner in order to grab the spotlight and build support among the GOP’s reactionary base. Last year, he was among the loudest voices urging GOP hard-liners to stand fast for a government shutdown.

Cruz’s sabotage last week led New York Republican, Peter T. King, to complain to a New York Times reporter, “I do wish that Ted Cruz would stay in the Senate. Nobody elected him Speaker … it’s really a cheap shot to be coming in from the side. To have some guy come in from the outside like the Pied Piper is wrong.”

And yet, Cruz’s behavior perfectly represents the political game going on on the conservative side of American politics these days – a game whose goal is sowing chaos. Cruz and his Tea Party confederates must disrupt the GOP’s own time-honored political processes and lines of authority –   sow internal party chaos – if they’re to seize power from establishment figures like Boehner and McConnell.

That strategy has both intensified and yet, ironically, also undercut the commitment the GOP leadership itself made at the very beginning of Obama’s first term to reflexively oppose his administration proposals – to sow governmental chaos – in order to re-capture the White House.

Those two dynamics adopted by the conservative movement and the Republican Party are the major reasons why the American politics of this era is so polarized: because, for them, political chaos is

Lee A.Daniels is a longtime New York journalist. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Crimes against Gaza

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(NNPA) So, let’s be clear about what is transpiring before our eyes in Gaza. It most recently started when the Palestine Authority and Hamas declared that there would be a unity government. This was a significant breakthrough after years of hostility between the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Almost immediately the Israeli government expressed outrage, attacking this agreement and proceeding to take a very threatening posture.

The next big event was the disappearance –  and subsequent murder – of the three Israeli boys. The Netanyahu government, without a shred of evidence, immediately accused Hamas as being behind this. The Israelis then began a rampage throughout the Occupied West Bank allegedly searching for the children and the kidnappers.  Leaders of Hamas were placed in jail and the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinians were thrown into complete chaos. The Netanyahu government understood precisely what it was doing: It was aiming to provoke a response by Hamas that would then give Israel the opportunity to engage in an armed assault on the largest open-air prison on this planet:  Gaza.

Rockets were fired out of Gaza at Israeli targets and this was enough for the Netanyahu government to justify airstrikes followed by an armed incursion. We now witness the horror of hundreds of Palestinians being murdered as a result of the Israeli aggression.

The Netanyahu government did not want the Palestinian unity government to succeed. They were well aware that the creation of a unity government would help the Palestinian cause internationally. That is not what the Netanyahu government wishes. They wish for a weak, powerless Palestinian regime to capitulate to the desires of the Israeli government. Carrying out this armed aggression against Gaza is aimed at creating just that situation.

Here in the U.S., members of Congress have stumbled over themselves to support the Israeli aggression.  There is nothing that the Israelis can do that will lead to a condemnation by Congress. The Israeli government can kill any number of civilians and the Congressional majority will applaud it. The Israeli government can starve the Palestinians in Gaza and the Congressional majority will figure out a way to declare it actually humanitarian. The Israeli government can only do this because they see the Palestinians as animals rather than as human beings.

This must stop now and it will only stop when you, along with your friends and family, pick up your phone and call your elected representatives, or when you send them an email telling them that U.S. support for the slaughter in Gaza does not have your support.

Do it now.  There is no time to wait.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute of Policy Studies and a former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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