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Julianne Malveaux

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

Countering Voter Suppression Moves

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(NNPA) The Supreme Court recently blocked an appeals court ruling that would have restored seven days of voting in Ohio.  In just three sentences, the court reduced voting access for tens of thousands of Ohioans, in yet another effort to suppress the vote.  In North Carolina, the appeals court granted an injunction to restore same day registration and out of precinct voting. It didn’t strike down early voting restrictions because of time constraints, but did acknowledge that reducing early voting is a way to suppress the vote.  If the North Carolina case goes before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court is likely to lift the injunction against North Carolina, again making voting more difficult.

When the Voting Rights Act was attacked, too many tuned out and turned off from the details, though leaders such as Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law warned that we would begin to feel the effects of this legal setback with various forms of voter suppression. The Lawyers’ Committee developed a “map of shame” to show the many states that had curtailed ballot access.  Either more ID has been required, the days and times of voting have been changed, the number of polling places has been reduced, or other barriers have been introduced to curtail voter access. Those who would suppress the vote in 2014 have put those who advocate ballot fairness on notice.  This year marks the first step toward a suppressed or stolen 2016 presidential election.

The stakes are high, both now and in 2016.  Presently, Democrats hold the Senate, and provide at least some help to President Obama on issues of political and economic fairness. It is very possible that Republicans will take the Senate; it is a foregone conclusion if people don’t vote this year. Republicans now hold the House of Representatives; their presence is the House is likely to increase without a strong vote on November 4 (and in the weeks before, with early voting).

President Obama’s effectiveness has been weakened by the John Boehner Congress that has thwarted the him at every turn. Although these last two years of the Obama presidency are lame duck years where little is likely to get done, the duck will be not lame, but paralyzed, if the Republicans hold both the House and the Senate. President Obama’s only powers, then, will be the executive order and the veto.  It is unlikely that the minimum wage will be adjusted upward, or that other economic fairness matters will be addressed if Congress is a Republican stronghold.

Lots of pro-democracy organizations are working to get out the vote for the 2014 elections, with local and state office as important as federal office.  Secretaries of state, for example, are the chief elections officers for their state.  As such, they have significant power around the mechanics of voting.  They can decide to open more polling places, to have more (or fewer) voting machines available, and to manage the details of voter registration.  In Ohio, where a week of early voting has now been eliminated, Nina Turner, a charismatic African American state legislator with her efforts clearly focused on justice, is a candidate for Secretary of State.  Her election would be an antidote to voter suppression efforts in Ohio, and an inspiration for those who cherish election fairness.  Imagine how different voting conditions would be if in states like North Carolina, Florida, and other “stars” on the Map of Shame had progressive Secretaries of State.

Voter suppression is not new.  We’ve seen grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests as historical barriers to the vote.  Now, we see a reduction in voter flexibility, with more ID requirements, fewer early voting days, and stricter rules about voter registration.  Still, those who would suppress the vote can do so only if we allow it by failing to vote.  There are too many important elections to be decided, like Nina Turner’s in Ohio, for voters to stay home.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C..

The Boomerang Generation

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(NNPA) One of the most interesting findings of the data recently released by the Census Bureau is that so many recent college graduates live with their parents. Described as “boomerang” graduates, a third of them occupy a basement, a spare room, their old room, a floor or couch. Blessedly, they have parents with whom to live. And if they are 26 or younger, they have health insurance, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

On the other hand, these boomerang graduates will postpone many adult decisions that affect economic markets. They won’t rent apartments or buy furniture or homes. If they don’t have credit cards from college (and they shouldn’t), they are unlikely to get them as residents of their parents’ homes. They will delay marriage and other decisions that also have an impact on consumer spending.  They are missing out on the low interest that would make the purchase of a car or a home much cheaper. Their inability to fully participate in the economy hurts them, and it hurts the economy, too.

African American graduates experience less of a boom because they have much less to boom back to. Their parents and grandparents will make room for them, but instead of staying in a basement room, they are staying on the same floor.  Not only is there pressure to find a job, but their failure to do so affects younger siblings and neighbors who think: Why should I go to college?  Big brother went and can’t find a job.  Or, big brother is working at a fast food restaurant. I could do that without a degree.

The Census data showed  the first decrease in poverty since 2007, from 12.7 percent to 12.4 percent. Black poverty went up slightly, from 25.6 to 25.7. Hispanic poverty dropped from 24.6 percent to 22.3 percent, the largest decrease for any group

Given the high Black unemployment rate and the weaker networks that African Americans have, few relatives can’t refer them to jobs – many are still looking for jobs for themselves. Boomeranging  hits African American young people harder, and the consequences are greater.  Already the recipients of lower wages, they so find that it takes longer to locate employment than their White counterparts.

When young people are out of work, economists refer to the impact as “scarring.”  This means that boomerangers will have lower wages for the rest of their lives, unless they go to graduate or professional school, a costly proposition.  And those who stay out of the labor market for a year or two are less preferred than graduates who find jobs right after college.  The Great Recession had a permanent impact on the graduating classes from 2007 through 2012.

The inability of recent college graduates to find jobs are structural, and they are also racial.  Efforts to close the unemployment  gap could generate post-graduation outcomes that are similar for young African Americans as they are for Whites. But Black unemployment has been twice that of Whites as long as these data has been collected. The unemployment rate gap is seen as so normal that nothing has been done to reduce it.

President Obama has, by executive order, indicated that veterans should have hiring priority for federal jobs. Such ruling has caused resentment among federal workers, with the allegation that some veterans are not qualified for the jobs they hold. Qualifications notwithstanding, human resource specialists at federal departments are required to offer veterans a hiring privilege. Doesn’t this sound like affirmative action to you?  Yet affirmative action has been all but forgotten. Veteran preferences are the “new” hiring preference.

The rationale for these preferences is that those who served our country should not be homeless. Yet, the overwhelming majority of veterans have homes and, indeed, lower unemployment rates than the general population.  While no one begrudges veterans special opportunities, there are other groups that deserve preferences, too.

When a college graduate is flipping burgers or assembling sandwiches, we are squandering knowledge and ensuring that graduates without jobs have a permanent disadvantage in the labor market.  When African American graduates are sidelined, their very absence from the labor market sends a disturbing signal to others who would apply to college but for their perception that college completion offers them no advantages over the friend or colleague who did not go.

Why not invest in our nation’s future by giving something extra recent graduates?  And why not pay special attention to those groups that much higher unemployment rates than others?

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

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