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Julianne Malveaux

The Education of Dr. King

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(NNPA) As he labored for social, civil and economic justice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was extremely concerned both about the educational inequities that were a function of segregation, and about the purpose and quality of education. As early as 1947, as a Morehouse College student, he wrote an article, The Purpose of Education, for the Maroon Tiger, the college newspaper. His article is as relevant today as it was then.

Today, much of the focus of education is on passing standardized tests; and while educational measurement is important, Dr. King suggests that these measures are insufficient. In his article, he pondered the meaning and purpose of education. He wrote that “Education must enable a (person) to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”

King was critical of the results of specific aspects of education when he wrote, “education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think, incisively and to think for one’s self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and propaganda. A great majority of the so-called educated people does not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths.”

True in 1947, but even more so today with 3-minute commentary passing for news, and some classrooms the site of propaganda delivery. Some Southerners still believe that the South won the Civil War, and they fly the confederate flags to honor it, and teach this falsity in their classrooms. A friend who lives in Georgia said nearly half of her junior high school-age daughter’s U.S. history curriculum covered aspects of the Civil War.

From that perspective, young King was quite critical of segregationist, their intelligence, ad their prejudice. “The late Eugene Talmadge, in my opinion, possessed one of the better minds in Georgia, or even America. Moreover, he wore the Phi Beta Kappa key. By all measuring rods, Mr. Talmadge could think critically and intensively yet he contends that I am an inferior being. Are these the types of men we call educated?”

King said that intelligence is not enough. He said, “Intelligence plus character is the goal of true education.”

We must develop and support young people who are educated in the King tradition – young people with character and discernment. We cannot do this work without a consciousness of people who are committed to breaking down educational barriers, closing the achievement gap, improving the quality of schools and access to education. But while other countries are increasing their commitment to education, the United States is cutting back.

Said King, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man (person) gifted with reason, but no morals.” How moral is it to consign millions to low wages, refusing, even, to increase the minimum wage. How moral is it to cut food stamps and jobs programs in the name of economic growth, although many are still suffering? The art and science of politics is about compromise, but how do we compromise with people’s lives and well-being?

There ought to be a floor under which no citizen is allowed to fall. Wages, health career, education, and access to housing should not be bargained over, but automatically given. Too many of our legislators are educated, but lack morals. It is shameful to watch them celebrate the shredding of the safety net.

Budget cuts have made education less obtainable than ever. While many parents hire coaches to help their children write essays and complete their college applications, working class parents don’t have the money to do this kind of hiring.

The American School Counselors says that many states mandate a ratio of between 500 and 750 students per counselor. Even at the lower number, a counselor can spend just an hour per student per semester, hardly enough to get advice about college attendance, the filling out of applications, and other matters. Some states have no mandate at all. They include (but are not limited to) Florida, Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky. Unless parents or civic organizations are willing to step up, some students face major barriers to college attendance and career preparation.

President Obama says he wants the US to be a leader in world education. Others could care less about the education of too many students. Those who fail to care about the next generation are, in Dr. King’s words, “dangerous criminals.”

Let’s celebrate the King holiday with a commitment to close the achievement gap and to improve the quality of education in our nation.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Disregarding Black Life

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(NNPA) Patrick Lynch, do you remember Oscar Grant? And if you do, Mr. “leader” of the New York Police Department Union, why do you pretend not to understand the reaction that many African American people have to the police killing of Black men? The official reaction to those killings and the arrogance with which many police officers (read Darren Wilson in Ferguson) respond to the fact that they have snuffed out a life.

If you don’t remember Oscar Grant, Mr. Lynch, I do. He was executed on the first day of the same month that President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, ordered from a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train in Oakland, Calif., and compliantly sitting on the platform when he and a group of friends were roughed up, and he was shot. Why? Because his murderer, Johannes Mehserle, said he mistook his Glock gun (with a weight of at least 28 ounces and perhaps as many as 38) for a Taser (which weighs seven ounces).

Just days after the killing, on Jan. 6, 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle described this fiction as “nonsense,” not only because firing a Taser has an entirely different protocol than firing a Glock, but also as noted by The Chronicle a Taser has to be turned on and off, and a Glock does not. Furthermore, Mesherle had used his Taser earlier in the same evening he killed Oscar Grant. He should have known the difference.

I think of Oscar Grant because I spent part of my end-year holiday in San Francisco and Oakland visiting my mom and family. I think of him because I have two nephews, 31 and 28, who regularly rode BART and had life threatening encounters with the BART police. I don’t think of Oscar Grant because of Michael Brown or Eric Garner, because I think of him every January 1. When we wish each other “Happy New Year,” I am bitterly reminded that he won’t have one. Oscar Grant was executed six years ago, and not much has changed in six years, 60 years or two centuries.

Where did the murderer Johannes Mehserle get his police training? In a crackerjack box or an amusement park? Oscar Grant paid the ultimate price, and his family, his baby daughter, paid the price for Johannes Mehserle’s ignorance and murderous actions. Meanwhile, Johannes Mehserle has been able to move through his life, often with the help and support of “law enforcement” agencies.

Johannes Mehserle was so arrogant that he refused to appear at an investigative meeting ordered by his superiors in early January 2009. He sent his lawyer instead and then immediately resigned from BART. It took nearly a month for the Oakland Police Department to arrest Mehserle. His crime was so egregious, his conflicting descriptions of it so glaring, that a judge set his bail at $3 million. He spent 11 months in jail before he was tried in Los Angeles, and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, not murder. He was sentenced to a scant two years and served a meager 11 months in jail before he was released.

Years later, Oscar Grant’s family and the several friends who were also brutally beaten received about $2.8 million in a settlement from a lawsuit. Then, Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, with his attorney’s arguing, “All he did was make a mistake.” Fortunately, the State Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

The Mehserle attorneys showed as much a disregard for Black life as the Mehserle execution did. Johannes Mehserle wanted to clear his record. What about Oscar Grant’s life? Patrick Lynch asked that New York protests stop to “respect” the lives of New York police officers so callously terminated. With all due respect and with sorrow and horror, one might ask who ever stopped, paused, considered the life of Oscar Grant.

Mehserle and his team would argue that he is “remorseful” for killing Oscar Grant. He sobbed his way through his testimony in the trial that resulted in his conviction, but one might wonder whether his tears were genuine or designed to lower his sentence. The fact that he appealed his conviction suggests that his remorse, if he had any, was limited.

Johannes Mehserle had the temerity to appeal his conviction, just as some in the New York Police Department had the temerity to turn their backs on their boss, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Temerity can be described as audacity, boldness, nerve, gall, and impudence. Or it can be described as a simple indifference to Black life. That’s why it must be asserted that #Blacklivesmatter.

The audacity of explanations, not the murders of Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many others explains some of the tension between African Americans and “law enforcement.” You see, while many police perceive most African Americans as potential criminals, many African Americans recognize police officers as potential Johannes Mesherle or Darren Wilson. If Patrick Lynch and his ilk want to stop the tension, perhaps they ought to eliminate their audacious disregard for Black life.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Innocent Blacks and White Cops – All Lives are Valuable

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(NNPA) Rafael Ramos had been a school security guard before he joined the New York City Police Department two years ago. Ramos, 40, was married and had two children. The youngest child, Jaden, 13, fondly remembered his dad on Facebook and Twitter, describing his dad as “the best father I could ask for.”  Already, many in the Ramos family say they have forgiven the Ismaayl Brisley, the man who executed Rafael Ramos and his colleague, Wenjian Liu, on December 20.

Liu, 32, attended the College of Staten Island and Kingsborough Community College.  He was a dedicated police officer who, according to news reports, chose his career out of a sense of duty and obligation.  He had been married for just two months.

Eric Garner, 43, was also married and had six children; the youngest, Legacy, was born just three months before his father died. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, probably because he was placed in a chokehold, a forbidden police maneuver. At 400 pounds, he suffered from diabetes and asthma, but – despite sinister efforts to blame Garner’s health for his death – those diseases did not kill him. A cursory view of the last moments of his life show excessive police force and medical indifference to a man whose dying utterance, “I can’t breathe,” has become the mantra for a movement.

Tamir Rice never lived long enough to reach the legal age for marriage. He was just 12 years old when when Timothy Loeman shot him to death. Loeman was described as “unfit” for police duty in Independence, Ohio but he somehow made it onto the larger, Cleveland police force. It took him all of two seconds to decide the precious little boy had a dangerous weapon, although the 911 caller who alerted the police said the gun was probably not real.

Richael Brown, described as a “gentle giant” by his friends, also had his life cut short. He was killed by a remorseless Darren Wilson, who pumped 12 rounds into the young, Black man who was looking forward to attending community college. His words, “hands up, don’t shoot” have been printed on signs and T-shirts all over the world, as a symbol of police brutality and active resistance. A grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson, whose testimony seems to have been coached by Robert McCulloch, a prosecutor whose actions were, at best, questionable.  His killing, linked with those of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, has sparked an international movement against police brutality and excessive police force.

What links the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu?  Some would say that one set of deaths was revenge for the other. Actually, all of the deaths represent a tragic loss of life. They represent losses for families and friends, tragedies for communities. The connection between Brown, Rice, Garner, Ramos and Liu is that all of these lives should be mourned. .

Patrick Lynch, the president of the New York Police Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has used incendiary rhetoric to link the killings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu to the international protests against police brutality.  Lynch blames the killings of Ramos and Liu on New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, whose compassionate words after a grand jury failed to indict Eric Garner’s killer set just the right tone.

Instead of asking who is to blame for the tragic deaths, Lynch should  focus on the mental illness that clearly compelled Ismaaiyl Brinsley to kill two police officers. It is troubling that the media has focused on “revenge” shootings without fully exploring the possibility that Brinsley simply was “not all there.”  He shot his former girlfriend before heading to New York to kill police officers, and then he killed himself.  These are not the actions of a rational human being.

Acting in absolutely righteous rage, tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets, sometimes in actions that have been carefully orchestrated, and other times in spontaneous outrage. Al Sharpton gathered thousands to Washington, D.C., flanked by the mothers of the Black men who were slain. Refreshingly, the protesters were multi-racial and multi-generational.  “Hands up, don’t shoot,” and “I can’t breathe” were their watchwords. There is no thick line, and probably not even a dotted line between the police killings and killings of black men except for the fact that we live in a violent culture.

When Adam Lanza killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. in 2011, his deranged Internet postings were seen as part of his mental illness.  Too many are focusing on Ismaaiyl Brinkley’s supposed “revenge” and too few are focusing on his mental illness.  And, most importantly, too few are focusing on the equivalence of life, the fact that every death is a tragedy.

Julianne Malveaux is an economist and author based in Washington D.C.

A Criminal Justice System that Suffocates Us

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(NNPA) “I can’t breathe,” gasped Eric Garner, again and again and again.  “I can’t breathe,” he said as several police officers were on top of him, choking him, pushing his head onto the concrete sidewalk.  The man was not resisting arrest; he simply had the temerity to ask a police officer not to touch him.  And because he was allegedly selling loose cigarettes, the life was choked out of him.

No one tried to help him or stop the vicious assault (ruled a homicide by the coroner).  Emergency medical respondents offered no assistance. Eric Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” ought to motivate all Americans, not just African Americans, but Americans of conscience to breathe life and energy into a movement for justice.

Breathing ought to be a simple thing.  Air in, air out.  It’s not so simple when one’s neck is being choked. Not so simple when one’s spirit is being choked. The image of Eric Garner’s neck in a chokehold, the image of at least four White police officers on top of him, is galling.  All the more galling is the invisible choking of spirit that comes when people cannot breathe, cannot speak, and cannot respond to injustice.

In historical contexts, how many were as free to speak as Ida B. Wells was when she fought against lynching.  Even in her freedom, Wells was threatened and run out of Tennessee, but many feared to speak about lynching fearing the fact that they might be lynched themselves. Can’t breathe.  Think of the many African Americans who have served in our armed forces, treated unfairly, serving nonetheless, often silently.

How can any of us breathe in an atmosphere of compounded injustice?  How can we breathe in an atmosphere of hypocrisy, when justice has never been blind?  We live in a nation where a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, is shot because he has a toy pellet gun, not pointed at police. Hard to breathe when video makes it absolutely clear that it was not necessary for Daniel Panaleo to place Eric Garner in a chokehold.  Hard to breathe when a grand jury comes to an incomprehensible decision, one that defies common sense.

Difficult to breathe when an elected official, Congressman Peter King (R-NY), chooses to blame Eric Garner’s death on his health.  “If he had not had asthma, and a heart condition, and was so obese, almost definitely he would not have died from this,” King told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. King fails to note that use of the chokehold was banned by New York Police Department rules in 1993.  Instead, there is no shame, no condolence in his insensitivity and ignorance.

Can’t breathe.  Whether he is svelte or obese, carrying a briefcase or a bag of skittles, wearing a Hermes suit or a hoodie, behaving respectfully or rudely, a Black man’s safety cannot be guaranteed, especially when a White police officer is involved. The mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and wives of these men hold their breath, cannot breathe, except to pray for the safety of their loved ones. Would the system be fairer if a White man walking down Park Avenue had the same fears?  Would the protests look different if those who were massacred looked different?

Can’t breathe.  A metaphor for the African American condition, juggling the space between hopes and despair, between progress and regress. Who would have thought police violence against African American men would so visibly escalate at a time when our nation’s leader is an African American man.  Can President Obama breathe, or is he in a figurative chokehold when he parses words about the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and little Tamir Rice?  Our president faced protest when he criticized James Crowley, the police officer who arrested Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on his own front steps in 2009.  Now, he offers measured words in response to the outrageousness of grand jury failure to indict.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder has been somewhat less measured in his comments.  The day after the Staten Island grand jury exonerated Daniel Panaleo for his murder of Eric Garner, Attorney General Holder announced Department of Justice findings of excessive force by the Cleveland police.  Perhaps the Cleveland consent decree will be a first step toward cleaning up excessive police action around the country.

Eric Garner did not have to die.  He did not have to stop breathing.  Did his last breath bring life to a movement, or did he gasp that last breath in vain?

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Democrats Have No Consistent Message

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(NNPA) Pundits are likely to spend the next several weeks attempting to explain the many reasons that Republicans simply kicked the Democrats square in the hind parts to dominate both houses of Congress in ways that had not been expected. With turnout at abysmal low – 33 percent – two thirds of the electorate didn’t think this election important enough to vote.   President Obama had it right when he said he heard them.

Many of those who cared enough didn’t have the opportunity to vote since voter suppression laws may have reduced the number of people willing to vote by 2.4 percent. The reduction of early voting days, the requirement of additional ID (in Kansas proof of citizenship could be requested), the elimination of same-day registration were among the tools Republican state legislatures used to suppress the vote, especially the African American vote. The tactic worked. Too many races were decided by minuscule margins, and laws that encouraged rather than discouraged voter participation might have made a difference.

In North Carolina, Senator Kay Hagan (D) lost by just 48,000 votes, or 1.7 percent of the vote, despite a robust Moral Monday movement that encouraged voter participation.  In Florida, the governor’s race was decided narrowly, and the current governor reduced the ways former felons had to restore their voting rights.

There were some cases were Republicans simply trounced Democrats – Mitch McConnell (R) handily won his race over Alison Lundergan, a refreshing female candidate who had support from the Clintons, among others.  In Maryland, the one-time front-runner, Lt. Governor Anthony Brown lost to Republican Larry Hogan, a businessman who hit hard on tax increases without offering a single idea about how he might pay for the programs he supported, and cut (as he promised) taxes and spending.

Too many Democratic Senators were elected on the Obama coattails in 2008, and chose to jog away from the president this election.  Instead of running away from the president, Democrats needed to embrace him. The economy has improved, and President Obama’s proposal to increase the minimum wage will help millions of low-wage workers.

Millions more Americans have health care since the Affordable Care Act was passed.  The Obama administration hasn’t tooted its own horn enough, and the Senators who have supported his work, even tepidly, ought to have been the ones to toot it.  Some, like Kay Hagan in North Carolina, ran from Obama because he wasn’t popular in their state. They lost anyway.  Imagine if Democrats were as united as Republicans in putting a message out there.

Noneconomic issues, such as ISIS and the handling of the Ebola virus presence in the United States, have been among the reasons President Obama’s popularity has plummeted.  The fact that Democrats have yet to promote a strong, cohesive, economic justice agenda is another. You can’t sleep with Wall Street on one hand and talk about wage increases on another without showing that Wall Street and corporate America pay their fair share of taxes. When Democrats send mixed signals, the Democratic base is indifferent to a mid-term election and people stay home.

Republican dominance might not have the effect Republicans hope for it to have.  President Obama still has veto power. And Republicans have the opportunity to squander their legislative dominance, setting up the opportunity for a Democratic victory in 2016.  But this 2014 election ought to remind Democrats that the development of a progressive agenda, with fair pay, health care, quality education, and social and economic justice at its base, will result in an energized base in 2016.  It ought to remind Democrats that reliable allies aren’t so reliable anymore.  Dems lost traction among unmarried women and people under 30, so they have to have a plan to win them back.

Republicans tend to be consistent with their message, even if their message is devoid of real programmatic meaning.  They connected their Democratic opponents to President Obama so that those ambivalent about the president either stayed home or voted for Republican candidates. What Democrats failed to understand is that they couldn’t run away from the president and mobilize the base that supported him, and that part of their message had to be their support of successful economic programs?

No message, no votes, no victory.  That’s the lesson for 2016.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist in Washington, D.C.

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