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Julianne Malveaux

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.

Online Colleges Flunk Common Sense

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(NNPA) The most common model of college attendance is that a young person who graduates from high school and heads directly to college, perhaps taking a year off in between to work, take a “13th class. While many students start off right after high school, some of them have breaks in their higher education, dropping out to save money to continue, or to deal with family matters.

The most common model is not the only model, however. Mature adults who did not attend or finish college through the most common model are referred to as “returning students” or “nontraditional students.” Some get their degrees through online programs. A few colleges (Bay Path College in Massachusetts, is one example) have developed Saturday programs where women can earn a four-year degree by attending college only on Saturdays.

Concerned by high unemployment rates and eager to enhance their employability, many mature college students turn to for-profit colleges (sometimes called “career colleges”) for their education. Some of these students, barraged by television ads, are convinced that for-profit colleges, where they can attend during the evening or online, allow them the flexibility they need to manage work, family and education. And since federal funds, such as Pell grants and subsidized loans, are available to take care of costs, some students who attend for-profit colleges are pressured to take out these loans. If they drop out, they are still required to repay their loans, just as they would have to in any other college.

But all colleges are not created equal. About once a week, I get a call from a mature student whose time at a career college was unrewarding. One woman failed a math test but could not get feedback from her instructor on what she did wrong. Appeals to others in the chain of command went unanswered.

In another case, a young woman desperately needed counseling. She ended up getting it from a community organization, not from her career college. To cite just a few cases to make a point is casual empiricism, but my direct knowledge of some students’ plight raises a few questions for me.

Many students get training, but not jobs. Many are saddled with loans they cannot ever afford to repay; and the costs of attending career colleges are high. The Department of Education estimates that it costs four times as much to attend a career college as to attend a community college.

Why are costs so high when services are so limited?

Partly because many career colleges are publicly traded and the pressure is on for them to make a profit to provide dividends for their shareholders. Another reason is that salaries for leaders are extremely high. At ITT Technical Institute, CEO Kevin Monday earned $8.76 million in 2012. DeVry University President Daniel Hamburger earned $6.4 million in 2012. The Apollo Group, which includes the University of Phoenix, paid Gregory Cappelli $4.54 million in 2013, and the Chairman Emeritus received nearly $7 million each year in 2012 and 2013. In contrast only four presidents at public universities earned more than a million dollars. Harvard’s president earns about $900,000, but some of her benefits boost her salary to about 1.2 million.

These so-called career colleges are actually profit centers. The disproportionate enrollment of Black and brown students means that folks who are already poor and underpaid are creating profits for these publicly traded companies and their overpaid leaders. At ITT Technical Institute, the overwhelming majority of students (92 percent) were self-identified members of a racial and ethnic group. Nearly four in five took out a Pell grant. At DeVry about 45 percent were minority students. Meanwhile, students who enroll in these colleges and do not graduate (the majority) have nothing to show for their education but more debt.

That’s why the Department of Education is limiting the amount of federal loans that students can take out, pegging loan amounts to ability to pay, based on students’ current salaries and income. “Attendance at career colleges should be a gateway to the middle class,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Too often mobility is downward, not upward, when large student loans go unpaid. The new regulations are imperfect, but a step in the right direction. They might be more efficient, but the for-profit colleges have lobbied hard, and gone to court, to prevent cautionary regulations.

Students of color who consider these colleges need to make sure they know what they are getting. Otherwise, they are up for a big surprise when student loans bills come due. For-profit colleges are exactly that, for profit. Students are not necessarily being educated, instead being treated as a profit center.

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

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