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Scalise Should be Removed from House Leadership

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(NNPA) After a phenomenal election last November in which Republicans increased their margins in the House and took control of the Senate, the expectation was that congressional Republicans would prove to the country that they could lead like mature adults. But as the adage goes, “they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Specifically, House speaker John Boehner and the rest of his leadership team had a great opportunity to show that they understood the optics of 21st century politics. Two weeks ago, it was reported that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the No. 3 person in the GOP House leadership, had addressed a group of White supremacists in 2002.

I think Scalise could have survived the fact that he attended this racist gathering simply by being honest about the fact that he attended and it was a huge mistake. He could have asserted that his body of work in public office has proven that his views are not consistent with what the European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO) represent.

He still would have taken some heat in the media for a few weeks, but it would have gone away. But no, Scalise’s initial response by his spokeswoman, Moira Bagley was, “he [Scalise] was unaware at the time of the group’s ideology and its association with racists and neo-Nazi activists…throughout his career in public service Mr. Scalise has spoken to hundreds of different groups with a broad range of viewpoints…In every case, he was building support for his policies, not the other way around…In 2002, he made himself available to anyone who wanted to hear his proposal to eliminate slush funds that wasted millions of taxpayer dollars as well as his opposition to a proposed tax increase on middle-class families…He has never been affiliated with the abhorrent group in question…The hate-fueled ignorance and intolerance that group projects is in stark contradiction to what Mr. Scalise believes and practices as a father, a husband, and a devoted Catholic.”

In politics it is said that the cover-up is worse than the original sin. The Scalise affair is Exhibit A.

As one who has spent his entire adult life working on political campaigns, I know that no politician speaks at an event without knowing all the particulars surrounding the event: who is the convener, the purpose, the audience, etc. Because Scalise and his staff tried to feign ignorance, he should be forced to step down from his leadership position. His response is an insult to anyone with a brain – and any sense of morality.

The organizer of the event was none other than David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The national Republican Party has been playing footsie with Duke and the likes in the early 1990s and thus were intimately familiar with who Duke was.

Without the likes of Duke, Newt Gingrich would have never become speaker of the House in 1995. So, for Gingrich, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, etc. to try to explain Scalise’s attendance before this group as a mistake is an outright lie – it was done with full knowledge of who the group was and what it stood for.

This scandal has nothing to do with “racism” or whether Scalise is a racist. This is about telling the truth, which he has not done.
I am deeply offended as a Black Republican who has worked very hard to get more Blacks involved in my party to see people such as Gingrich, Boehner, McCarthy and others attempt to defend the indefensible.

On matters of race, I have come to expect absolutely no leadership from Republicans in Congress – and they never disappoint me in this regards.
So, let me publically pose a few questions to Scalise and the House leadership – and I use the term “leadership” very loosely. Does Scalise have any Blacks on his official or political staff? Did he reach out to any credible Black Republicans, not the usual Blacks they go to who will say anything they are told to say, before accepting the invitation? Speaking of staff, does Boehner or McCarthy have any Blacks on their staffs? If so, who are they and what do they do?

It has long been said that the most segregated hour in America is at 11 a.m. on Sundays, when Blacks and Whites go to separate churches. A corollary to this could be that the most segregated place in Congress is the staff of Republican leadership.

Where are the voices of the so-called Black Republicans/conservatives who will miss their own mother’s funeral to denounce Al Sharpton when he does something stupid, but will never publically criticize Scalise and Boehner when they are wrong for fear of not being invited to go on FOX News to praise all things Republican.

As Eric Erickson asks, “How do you show up at a David Duke event and not know what it’s about?” GOP operative, John Weaver said, “Scalise cannot serve in leadership.”

I have not read about any Black Republicans calling for Scalise’s resignation from leadership. So let me do so publicly: Steve Scalise must go!

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

Republicans 2015: A Trip into the Past

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(NNPA) At this time of the year everyone is making predictions about the coming year and/or reflections on the past. Let me add a quick note, by way of a warning. The November 2014 elections, at the national and state levels, brought together some very conservative forces who, according to most opinion polls, do not represent the point of view of the majority of the population. They do, however, represent the views of about 15-20 percent of the population that voted for them on Election Day 2014.

The vast majority of the Republican Party has suggested, for many years, that their objective is to overturn the 20th century, that is, to reverse the various gains made by the average person in the 20th century. This means everything from the victories of the New Deal to the increase in voting rights in the 1960s. With majorities in the House and Senate, we should expect that these conservative forces will go all out, with no interest in compromising, to advance their agenda.

Added to this, of course, is the conservative hatred for President Obama even when they agree with him on matters of policy. As soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear in 2009, the objective of the Republicans was to make Obama a one-term president. Well, they did not succeed at that, but they have continued in their efforts to undermine all of his major efforts.

What we should expect to see, in 2015, is not about President Obama. It really is more about conflicting visions of the future of the U.S. That is what we should appreciate. As I am fond of saying, conservative forces in the U.S. are attempting to block the future. They are hoping to gerrymander our politics in such a way that despite a popular majority to the contrary, rich and conservative forces will continue to dominate society (this is what makes the census and who controls state legislatures so important).

Next year will be another year of struggle but with what we have seen in the upsurge of youthful, Black action in response to police lynchings, there are good reasons to be believe that passivity will have little place in our future. The activism and energy that emerged in response to police violence must be translated into fights for voting rights, healthcare, housing, education and jobs.  It must be translated into a recognition that the battle for justice in so-called post-racial USA is a battle to establish consistent democracy rather than any acceptance of a political and economic establishment that looks a lot like a 21st century Jim Crow or apartheid regime.

Happy New Year!

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English.  He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

'Selma' is More than a Movie

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(NNPA) The movie Selma, which debuted on Christmas Day, is an eerily timely film detailing a history not taught in American schools on a regular basis. There’s the obvious truth we already knew:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is in another stratosphere of leadership compared to the Who’s Who on the scene today.

In terms of results, no one has come close to Dr. King before or since. Anyone attempting to define themselves as a leader in the movement around the Black agenda today needs to check themselves after watching this movie. The film provides a unintended indictment of the non-strategies that yield no positive results often seen in today’s so-called leadership.

Director Ava DuVernay’s depiction of the lead up to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act leaves behind huge lessons – many unintentional. The first would be that without constant pressure on those in power nothing will change. Even within the genre of a history we already know on a man we’ve over-studied, there’s that powerful truth.

Selma reminds us of what is required to win results for African Americans with 300 years of history stacked against them.  Even with the predictable restrictions brought on by the money-grabbing King kids who forbade the director to use their father’s actual words for the film –   screenwriter Paul Webb tells us that Dr. King remains one of few people in American life to speak brutal honesty on racism and make a difference.

The film reaffirms that Dr. King worked in service of a mission. In the case of the Selma campaign, it was voting rights.  King did not get up in the morning to focus on TV interviews, news conferences or participate on panels.  His was a results driven movement.  Understanding the domino effects of certain actions in Selma and how those actions would win results and move the needle on voting rights is featured.

It’s jarring to consider how unthinkable it was for Blacks voting in the South 50 years ago just as it was unthinkable to imagine a Black president in the White House.  Now, even with both those realities realized, current Black leadership still hasn’t found a way to win.

The post-King era of civil rights groups is more fixated on corporate sponsorships, endless roundtables and sprawling conferences.  It also features meetings with people in power that yield no results and endless re-statements of unsolved problems. The pattern typically ends with a behind-the-scenes deal to keep modern civil rights leaders quiet.

All this comes at a time when any glance at economic data on poverty, unemployment and economic status would tell you something is seriously wrong with Black leadership. That Dr. King was operating during a much more perilous time punctuated with murder makes it even more of an indictment of today’s “leaders.”

In the wake of Ferguson, Mo. and the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner by state actors, there is the realization that much of what King confronted and improved remains unconquered.  We still have unarmed Black men being shot dead and their killers going unpunished after telling tales that blame the dead for their demise.

At first glance,  a viewer could look at Selma as a completely different era. The failure of the state to punish those who killed Black people is featured in the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson by a Alabama State Trooper who was never punished.  Given recent events the film prompts a scary question: What’s different now?

Maybe Dr. King appears larger because the stakes were higher.  Or, maybe it’s because in the 1960s era of law enforcement featured beatings that were routine. But the fact is that still happens.

With no smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, or laptops, you ask: What was it that the group of leaders had 50 years ago that is missing today?  King visited the White House in person fewer than six times from 1961 to 1968.  According to movement historian Taylor Branch, Dr. King informed President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, that he would attend no further social functions at the White House until they dealt with his request for an executive order ending segregation.

The thought of any current civil rights leader doing anything close to that now is unfathomable.

Selma also covers internal rivalries within the movement and tactical mistakes. The fact is any movement in the midst of failing to reach a stated goals should be actively questioning itself.  Show me a movement with no results and no infighting and I’ll show you a bunch of idiots.   Internal criticism in the wake of failure is not a “distraction” as it is defined today.

Disagreements between groups in the days of Dr. King’s prominence became the moments when leadership re-adjusted failed strategy. There’s a reason you don’t see leaders from NRA, AIPAC and LaRaza fighting publicly.  It’s because so many of their goals have already been reached.

Selma in theaters this holiday season becomes a time to push idiot movies about assassinating foreign leaders to the side.  Off in Hollywood, where people can waste $90 million on trivia, the movie Selma is worth far more than that. And Selma will have far more longevity because it details neglected history. It also gives us a much needed whiplash when we compare civil rights activism now and civil rights activism then.

Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com

Blacks are Seen as Savages

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(NNPA) An African American friend of mine keeps asking, in utter amazement, how it is not obvious that there was something wrong when Officer Wilson fired 13 shots at an unarmed Michael Brown.  As she has said:  “Brown was unarmed! How can you justify shooting him at all, let alone more than once?”

I thought about her point when I listened to the announcement that the grand jury was not going to indict. But the answer to her question is actually fairly straight forward. If you believe that African Americans and Latinos are savages, then any sort of action becomes justifiable. And in listening to the words of Officer Wilson, you would almost think that instead of talking about Michael Brown, he was talking about “Mighty Joe Young.”

The U.S. is such a residentially segregated society that it is actually possible for many White people to never see an African American or Latino in real life.  They may only see us on television or in films.  If they are addicted to Fox News, then their perception of us is even further misshaped.

Chris Rock, on the CBS series “Sunday Morning,” posed the question of why the police are not shooting more White youth. While his comments were provocative (and he was not calling for the police to shoot White youth), he was asking a very relevant question.  The African American community is not the only community where there is criminal activity. Italian Americans have the Mafia. Irish Americans have their own version of the Mafia, as well as Charlestown, Mass., the reputed capital of bank robberies.  Of course, there is the notorious Russian mob.  Yet, it is rare to hear about the police accidentally or on purpose killing Italian American, Russian or Irish American youth.

No, none of this can be understood until you recognize that we are not viewed as people. Our experiences are considered relevant and we are thought of as hostile, ignorant, and a permanent threat.

Until we force a change in that perception, which goes way beyond improving police/community relations and really involves a national discussion on race and class, this terror of lynchings will continue. Each outrage will be followed by a demonization of the victim, an explaining away of the incident, and the self-satisfaction of a part of the population, that the savages have been kept in their place.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Will Video Cameras Reduce Police Brutality?

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(NNPA) “I can’t believe that in the 21st century in the United States of America, we can’t get a simple indictment for a murder of a man that was caught on videotape,” said New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke hours after the news of a Staten Island grand jury failing to indict officer Daniel Pantaleo.

Pantaleo, a New York City cop, has two lawsuits against him. One was settled by the city of New York.  The other is still pending.  Pantaleo strangled 48-year-old Eric Garner to death on July 17, 2014, less than a month before a White Ferguson Police Officer shot teenager Michael Brown to death.

But in Garner’s case it was all on video.

On Dec.1, President Obama asked Congress to approve $263 million for police body cameras and training. The $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for police has been a primary focus of what many hope is a solution to police brutality – or at least a tool that will make it easier to prosecute police involved in misconduct.

But with a partisan fight under way over the president’s immigration executive order, there’s a real question about whether Congress will take action on the his proposal.  But the bigger question is: Will video matter? If a cop can’t be indicted for choking a man to death on a city street, then under what circumstances can a cop be indicted?

Garner was begging for his life and said 11 times, “I can’t breathe” when Pantaleo held him in a choke hold that even New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton called “disturbing” and a violation of police procedure. And even with all of it caught on video, there was no indictment.

Several elected officials are focusing on the question of whether cameras are the solution.

“What good is a body camera? A body camera is supposed to be utilized so you can see what facts took place. So in effect we had a body camera here; we see it all,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

“It brings into question whether body cameras will make any difference. The whole incident was on camera, but if prosecutors mishandled the presentation of the charges to the grand jury, you come up with no indictment,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.). “Given what’s happened in Ferguson and the tenor of where I see a lot of people in this country, I’m not surprised” at the outcome.

“When you have an apparent felonious action on videotape, someone engaging in an illegal choke hold that causes someone’s death, it’s very difficult to understand how there’s not an indictment, and not at least probable cause,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

The timing of the grand jury non-indictment and the body-camera issue could not be more relevant. Not only did President Obama focus on the issue on December 1, but body cameras will soon be in widespread use by the largest police department in the country. Starting over the weekend, 50 NYPD officers began wearing body cameras. The program is then expected to expand to 35,000 officers after a three-month trial period.

Body cameras for the New York City Police Department came as the result of a judicial mandate stemming from a lawsuit over the city’s massive stop-and-frisk program targeting young African-American and Latino men for more than a decade. This follows trial programs in several police departments that have instituted the use of body cameras, with some positive results.

One of the ironies of the Eric Garner case is that he was killed by a New York City Police Officer during a time of historically low crime in New York City.  After a decade of listening to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly drone on about how stop-and-frisk lowered crime,  recent crime stats showed anther decrease in crime in 2014.   Even with almost no stop-and-frisk after Mayor Bill De Blasio became mayor, crime in New York continued to go down.

Even though technology and the prevalence of mobile phones have opened a window on day-to-day police activity, another piece of the puzzle that leads to cops’ actually being held accountable for their actions is missing. Because of the often close relationships between prosecutors and police, indictments are hard to get, even with video evidence.

“Local prosecutors should not be presenting in police-related deaths. Prosecutors and police are bedfellows, they’re buddies,” said attorney Midwin Charles on “NewsOne Now with Roland Martin” on December 4.

America leads industrialized nations in police killings. An average of more than 400 people a year are killed at the hands of police.

Right now members of Congress, specifically members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are strategizing in an effort to figure out what to do next after two weeks of frustrating news in Garner’s case and the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo. Many are angry.

“I’m struggling because I’m also the father of two African-American boys, and I don’t know what to say to them about what’s happening in this country right now,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).

Lauren Victoria Burke is freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.

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