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A License to Kill Black Men

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(NNPA) From nearly the moment he was attacked by a New York City police officer July 18, the world has, via that chilling video, watched Eric Garner die.

Are we now about to see the “traditions” that led to his death and – thus far – have enabled his killer to escape justice die, too?

Moments after the news broke Dec. 3 that a New York City grand jury had voted not to indict the White police officer whom video showed had jumped Eric Garner from behind, ridden him to the sidewalk pavement and lain on his back while Garner, breathing heavily, frantically uttered “I can’t breathe!” nearly a dozen times, Garner’s stepfather spoke these bitter words:  “It’s just a license to kill a Black man!”

Yes. That’s what such decisions in the past meant – the reaffirmation of the longstanding ‘tradition’ that police officers, especially White ones, who kill unarmed Black men, or women or children in questionable circumstances do not get indicted. Or, if indicted, they do not get convicted. That’s because the ‘traditional’ stance American police departments, North as well as South, have taken toward Black Americans has always been to control them, not protect them.

The issue that Eric Garner’s death – and all the police killings of Black Americans in questionable circumstances – has now made unavoidable is how to eliminate these two “traditions” from the practice of policing.

Daniel M. Donovan, Jr., the District Attorney of Staten Island, the city borough where Garner lived and was killed (Staten Island is the most conservative and least diverse borough of the city’s five boroughs; separated from the mainland by water, accessible only by ferry and bridges), couldn’t afford to allow the grand jury (grand juries are under the complete control of prosecutors) to indict the officer – and thus send the case to a jury trial – because the video of Eric Garner’s death is so damning. So he engaged the old tradition to produce a grand jury decision that showed the jurors had literally refused to act on what their eyes and common sense made plain.

Even some conservatives denounced the grand jury decision as a gross miscarriage of justice. Other conservatives, of course, stuck to the old tattered script that Blacks must always be blamed for their oppression. Among them was Charles Barkley, who’s become embarrassingly eager to use his basketball fame to become conservatives’ latest “Magic Negro.”

But the shock and anger that the decision immediately provoked may yet lead to undermining the tradition that lets cops who kill unjustifiably escape responsibility for their actions.

One reason for this hope is the recent tragic and infuriating series of police killing, wounding or accosting unarmed Black Americans in questionable circumstances. Those tragedies were shockingly underscored by two police killings that bracketed the decision of the Ferguson, Mo. grand jury not to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown.

The first was the killing of Akai Gurley, a 28-year-old New Yorker, who, leaving a friend’s apartment in a New York City housing project, happened to step into its unlit stairway at the moment a rookie New York City cop was was standing 14 steps above him – with, police officials have said, his gun drawn for no apparent reason. As soon as Gurley opened the door to the stairway, the cop fired, killing him.

The second incident was a Cleveland police officer’s shooting to death 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing in his neighborhood’s playground while waving a realistic-looking toy gun. The cop, whom official police records show shot the boy two seconds after arriving at the park, was later found to have compiled a record of serious emotional instability at his previous police-force job that should have disqualified him for police work anywhere.

That the Cleveland police force has a host of problems that reach far beyond this one officer was the subject of a scathing study of its practices the federal Department of Justice released last week as well. It declared that the department’s effectiveness and reputation were undermined by a pattern of “excessive use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes with impact weapons” and the “employment of poor and dangerous tactics that place officers in situations where avoidable force becomes inevitable.”

There’s been significant recent evidence that whites and Latinos, too, don’t completely escape being physically brutalized by individual cops, either, while their superiors look the other way. But now the greater visibility of incidents of unjustifiable police violence against blacks and of reports which find it’s driven by an institutional culture as well as individuals’ pathologies should make one thing obvious: it’s time for the “two traditions” to end.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

AIDS Stigma Killed My Uncle – Not the Disease

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There are moments when an assignment becomes more than just a body of interviews and research. For me, these moments are quite rare. As a journalist, depending on where you sit, when a feature story stirs emotions and elicits a newfound outlook on your personal life, it can be either a blessing or a curse. I choose to view my recent HIV/AIDS project as a blessing in disguise.

This week’s HIV/AIDS story fell in my lap. Our publisher Paulette Brown-Hinds, PhD, received information about Foothill AIDS Project (FAP) and asked if there was a story to cover. It wasn’t long before I was on the phone with FAP, requesting clients I could contact. One of those clients was Jonia Williamson, who has exemplified the type of unwitting bravery that astounds you. Over the Summer, Jonia shared with me her story of finding out she was HIV positive, how her friends and church family shunned her, and the thoughtless rumors made about her, resulting from the stigma of HIV. All of the strife she endured that pushed her to California, where she turned her life around.

Perhaps that should have been “a wrap” as they say. It’s an original story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but Jonia’s story – and the experiences shared by other HIV/AIDS activists – was already hitting home ... and I had no idea. In fact, until last week, Jonia’s story was still helping me contextualize the loss of my uncle. My uncle was more than just an uncle, he helped raise my younger brother and I when I was 13, after our father suddenly died. My uncle stepped in and did what he could to watch out for us. My grandmother probably played a role in this, but every Summer, from 13 to 18, I was with family, not just learning about our history and creating new memories, but understanding the purpose of family ... something I previously never understood.

My uncle was unmarried all of his life. He was a handsome, physically-fit, well-spoken man with southern sensibilities – not the type of man who stays on the market unless there’s a distinct reason, I suppose now that I am older. I never really questioned why he was single. I didn’t assume that made me naïve, I thought it made me as ignorant and unassuming as most people should be about why people make personal choices about their love lives. But apparently, people were assuming a lot of things.

I got word in late August my uncle was terminally ill. It seemed out of nowhere. Just the year before, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but he was in good spirits. He had a reason to be. Prostate cancer is usually one of the less-aggressive forms of cancer. But within an instant, it seemed he was losing his life. There was a moment when I thought he would bounce back, just as my uncle convinced me he would a year ago. I made plans to see him in the morning, but the moment I opened my eyes, my cellphone rang – and I knew it wasn’t good. He was gone. I lamented not seeing him, wondering if he asked where I was, curious if he was upset I wasn’t there, but my aunt assured me “it’s best I remember him the way he was.” My uncle had whittled down to about 100 pounds, had skin lesions, and couldn’t speak. He suffered until the very end.

Nothing added up for me: his swift death, his symptoms, and bed-ridden condition. Later that morning, I was told my uncle was living with AIDS and it compounded the issues with his prostate cancer. My uncle, for years, had been buried underneath the type of shame that drives men to kill themselves. He didn’t want anyone to know – and I certainly was not to know his condition.

My uncle needed every service organizations like FAP provide. He needed a support group, he needed therapy, he needed a referral to a specialist – he epitomized why organization’s like FAP exist. Unfortunately, he didn’t know they existed, and maybe didn’t want to know. His fears of judgment were sadly warranted. As with most family secrets, word spread. Petty fodder ensued, like “Well, you know he lived in San Francisco before...”

To call these suggestions silly and destructive would be an understatement. Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Does living in San Francisco give you AIDS? Does being gay imply you should have AIDS? As I strung together a mental timeline, I realized that the period he contracted HIV was likely when he lived in San Bernardino. There goes that “San Francisco” theory! However, no one will ever know for certain where and when it happened.

Jonia’s advice was very sound: the stigmas have to stop. Too often they have no basis, and more importantly, they are never justified. They don’t help the black community cultivate a better understanding of HIV/AIDS, they hurt us because we assume what HIV/AIDS looks like and assume what makes us “safe” from the disease. And we pass these stigmas down to our children, creating a new generation of cultural ignorance. Everyone should get tested and everyone deserves access to treatment.

Last week, I tweeted that #WorldAIDSDay is every day. It couldn’t be more true. Every day someone is suffering from HIV or AIDS. Someone is choosing not to seek treatment, afraid to share their status and feels hopeless. There is a deep, profound sadness over the loss of my uncle that I don’t believe I will ever be able to shake, knowing that the ignorance of others influenced him to not seek help.

No one should die senselessly. Unfortunately, my uncle did. While I will hold loving memories of my uncle close, I will always remember his death, like countless people before him, as an unnecessary loss.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter @coreyarvin.

Looming Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Makes Emmett Till Tree Planting Ceremony a Bitter Sweet Reminder

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The word conundrum should probably never apply to a historic day like Monday, Nov. 17 when a Sycamore tree was planted at the Capitol, dedicated to the memory of Emmett Till. Till is remembered as the young black teenager from Chicago who was brutally murdered by a group of white men in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi. The racially-tinged circumstances surrounding his death are a permanent scar in America’s history of civil rights – and unfortunately, more of these racially-divisive moments are taking place 60 years later.

Under gray skies, outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder braved rain at the ceremony to share a few words about what Till’s death represented in the fight for civil rights and equality. The same day Holder was reminding America of Till’s tragedy, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his own speech, in which he called a state of emergency for Missouri in anticipation of a grand jury decision that would either indict or acquit Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Wilson fatally shot Michael Brown in August, allegedly in self-defense, which has left many protestors in Missouri skeptical.

I have no doubt that Gov. Nixon’s state of emergency was intended to protect the people of Missouri, but it’s remiss to not emphasize that the protestors, peaceful or violent, are citizens of Missouri themselves. It’s arguably more disconcerting to not look at the overwhelming displays of flagrant disrespect and tension sparked by officers who are meant to protect all Missourians since demonstrations began in August. And most importantly, let's not forget the simple and central issue behind this disruption: another young black man lost his life in a town that has a history of strife with law enforcement. The people most vulnerable to this issue are upset. The bedrock of leadership should be equality and justice for all, and ensuring that the well being and interests of all people are considered, including protestors.

Till and Brown’s individual deaths have important differences, this cannot be denied, but the question of whether justice will be served had too many African-Americans pessimistic of the outcome before a grand jury trial ever began. The timing of Till’s tree planting ceremony is a stark reminder that “the struggle” is real and that the shadow of Till’s death continues to follow young black men like Brown every day.

Corey Arvin is a Contributing Editor for Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every week on blackvoicenews.com. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com and followed on Twitter @coreyarvin.

The Question Black Conservatives Always Avoid

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(NNPA) Like everyone else, I am processing the November election results.  I will write more about that later, but there was a radio exchange that I heard the night prior to the election that really got me thinking.

On my way home from Baltimore, where I had been doing some electoral work, I found myself listening to a radio program that was addressing the upcoming election.  The focus of the program was the Maryland governor’s race, which pitted African American, Democrat Lt. Gov.  Anthony Brown against Larry Hogan, a White Republican who eventually won  the race.

This program appeared to be oriented towards African Americans.  A good deal of the air time was consumed with criticisms of the Brown campaign; mainly correct criticisms I might add.  Yet, on the program there was an African American who had served in the administration of former Maryland Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich.  She was making the case for voting for Hogan and dismissing anything positive that had taken place under current Gov. Martin  O’Malley and his Lt. Gov. Brown.

At one point in the discussion, this Hogan supporter did something very interesting.  She quickly made reference to mistakes that Republicans had committed around the country (she did not say what mistakes); made reference to racism existing in both parties (of course!); and then went on to say that all politics is local and that people should give Hogan a look.

I was amazed that no one else on this radio program, at least while I was listening, pursued this issue.  No one asked the obvious question:  “Why should African Americans support someone from a political party that has carried out an orchestrated strategy to deny African Americans the vote?”

I have yet to hear a Black conservative address this and I ask myself, “Why?”  How can someone who is Black ignore the fact that race is central in the Republican Party’s messages?  How can someone ignore the fact that in Republican dominated state legislatures, statutes have been advanced that make it more difficult rather than less difficult for minorities, youth and senior citizens to vote?

No one asked this sister anything like that.  They acted as if now governor-elect Hogan exists in some sort of bubble and does not have to address the well-planned, and orchestrated efforts to narrow the electorate rather than expand it.

So, to my Black conservative friends, would you please take a moment and respond to this simple question:  How can you remain silent on voter suppression and, worse, endorse a party that has made that part of their strategy?

Thanks in advance.

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 Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

Why Democrats Lost the Midterms

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By Wellington E. Webb
NNPA Guest Columnist

(NNPA) Now that the dust has settled after our nation’s 2014 elections across the country, here is my two cents worth on what has happened during the last couple of years, and what it means now.

First and foremost, congratulations to the National Republican Committee. They had a 50-state plan, and they implemented their plan with dogmatic discipline and with little or no deviation by candidates, or state strategists’ preferences.

During the election, I was in four different states and heard the same theme uttered from Republican candidate to Republican candidate in all four of them:  “This Democratic candidate “X” voted 99 percent of the time with Obama. This Democratic candidate “Y” voted with Obama 92 percent of the time.”  This theme resonated in every state that I visited. It was clear that this strategy was initiated at the highest levels of the Republican Party and was expected to be carried out in every race in the country where there was a Republican candidate who had served in an elected position and there was an opportunity to line up on the “Republican side” of issues or on the “Obama side” of issues in the forefront of the American people.

In my home state of Colorado, I was afraid that we Democrats were going to lose the U.S. Senate race, the governor’s race, and the majority hold to both chambers of the Colorado legislature.  My having served on the most recent Colorado Reapportionment Commission in 2010, where we crafted the districts based upon access to a fair process for candidates from each predominant party, I thought that the House and the Senate of Colorado were competitive but with a positive edge of advantage to Democrats in that Democrats had been at a disadvantage up to 2010.

However, given the lack of passion for the principles for which many Democratic elected officials coupled with victories on other issues over the past six years, two days before the 2014 midterm election, I was fearful that we were going to lose it all in Colorado. Our Democratic base did not vote its winning capacity, and the Republican ground game was also better than ours. Of the political consultants the Democratic Party had hired very few, if any, minority consultants were contracted to fill in their blind spots on data mining for voters.  This same unsuccessful strategy model was applied on Amendment 66 in Colorado as well.

Unfortunately, we Democrats had little to no respect for, and therefore almost invisible identification with, the accomplishments of President Obama, who had accumulated a litany of successes. We, as Democrats, should have been proud of and owned up to our record of sterling accomplishments from 2008 to 2014:  Gasoline prices are down, unemployment is down, health care accessibility is available to all, and, we even justifiably assassinated Osama Bin Laden.  Not once, did we mention one Democratic success. This omission was the most shameful outcome of this 2014 election.

We ran away from our successes – and Republicans fought against them, even though our efforts improved the lives of Americans.  We should have been talking about everything from increasing the minimum wage across the nation to fighting to protect Medicare and Social Security and providing a national security plan to protect America. But we didn’t.  Shame on us Democrats for not amplifying our improvements to the country.

Elections are cyclical, and if we don’t have a message that resonates at the national level, the state level, and to the legislative level, we Democrats, will be a minority party and our nation’s minorities will be shoved back into the shadows of not mattering once again.  The Democratic Party’s national leaders are going to have to broaden their consultant base to include younger pundits and more minorities into their think tanks for successful elections in the future.

Lastly, mail ballots work better for higher income level voters than for middle and lower level income voters.  As columnist George Will once asked, “In our democracy, is it too much to ask for voters to go to the polls to vote in person?”  I think not.

Wellington Webb served as mayor of Denver from 1991-2003.  He is the only mayor in U.S. who has served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, president of the National Conference of Black Mayors, and president of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.

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