May 22, 2015

Philadelphia Congregations Lead in the Struggle for Social Justice

(HuffPost Black Voices)  The recent events in Baltimore -- including the killing of Freddie Gray in police custody, and the protests and unrest that followed -- point to the need for community-based movement building. Baltimore, like many other cities in America, is hurting, and black people in particular are feeling the pain.

Meanwhile, a little over 100 miles to the north, Philadelphia -- the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection -- is offering a model for communities of faith to seek justice and transform the place in which they live. POWER (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Power and Rebuild) is a grassroots interfaith coalition of congregations across the city. Part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, they are dedicated to bringing people together around social justice issues such as jobs with a living wage, fair funding and democratic, local control of the public schools and an end to police practices such as "stop and frisk."

POWER is an example of the type of coalition building that cities need.

Black artist will burn, bury the Confederate flag across the South on Memorial Day

(theGrio)  Can you think of a better way for a black man to spend Memorial Day than to burn a Confederate flag?

As was reported in the Orlando Sentinel, an artist will do exactly that, with plans to make it happen in all the states throughout the former Confederacy.

John Sims, an artist from Sarasota, Florida, is honoring the constitutional right of self-expression by staging burnings and burials of the Rebel flag, that troublesome symbol of the Old South that many, particularly African-Americans, associate with slavery, white supremacy and state-sponsored terrorism and lynchings.

“We are in America, and people have the right to fly whatever flag [they want],” Sims said. “And I have the right to bury whatever flag, and to burn whatever flag.”

Google Maps’ cyber-racism hack locates White House after ‘N***a house’ search

(theGrio)  Cyber racism is nothing new, and the purveyors of online hate are at it again. If you don’t believe it, just go to Google Maps on your smartphone or computer and type in the words “ni**a house Washington” or “ni**er king” or even “ni**er house.” And what do you get? Google takes you to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s right, the White House, where the black folks live.

To its credit, Google apologized for the mishap, without explaining why this is all happening in the first place. “Some inappropriate results are surfacing in Google Maps that should not be, and we apologize for any offense this may have caused. Our teams are working to fix this issue quickly,” said a Google spokesperson, as reported in The Guardian.

This is not the first time Google has found itself in such a predicament. The company has had issues in the past, and they have to be more diligent.

Massive Texas biker gang shooting gets soft coverage, but we shouldn’t be surprised

(theGrio)  One dead. Eighteen injured. Nearly 200 arrested.

But apparently, not much to see here.

Looking at the media coverage of the May 17 massmurder among Texas motorcycle gangs, you would get the impression that it is not a big deal.

Rival gangs started shooting at each other, and at the police, outside the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas. Police described the scene as “gruesome.”

If the Texas biker gangs were black, the media would be on this thing like white on rice. Yet even though they were armed, because they were white, they were treated as human beings, with dignity.

The dangerous militarization of our police

(CNN)  As Philadelphia comes to terms with the train derailment that has left six people dead and some 200 injured, it's also worth remembering another tragic event that took place in the city exactly 30 years ago. It was an incident that claimed the lives of almost a dozen people, including five children, and destroyed 61 homes. And it was undertaken by the city's own police force.

Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous MOVE bombing, in which police fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition into a row house on the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. The police then dropped military-grade explosives on the house, burning an entire city block to the ground.

Fast forward to today, and that deadly, violent chapter provides valuable lessons for a society that so far has decided to ignore them.

Disney should nix film on white man who claims African land to make daughter a princess

(theGrio)  Disney plans to make a film about a white American man from Virginia who claims land in an African nation so that his daughter can become a princess. It’s 2015, and the studio wants to make a movie, based on a true story, about colonization. What is there not to like?

It sounds like satire, or a spoof from The Onion, but no, you couldn’t make this up if you tried.

Disney bought the rights to The Princess of North Sudan, the story about Jeremiah Heaton, a farmer from Abingdon, Virginia, who planted a flag on an uninhabited parcel of land between Egypt and Sudan, and proclaimed it the Kingdom of North Sudan. It was his daughter Emily’s seventh birthday. In an interview, Heaton told Agence France-Presse, “With a child you don’t want to ever tell them they can’t be something they desire to be, and at age six, her frame of reference for the world was to be a princess. So I told her that she could be.”

May 11, 2015

Echoes of Baltimore at a Philly Mayoral Forum

(Progressive Philly Rising Could Philadelphia become another Baltimore? This question was asked at an important forum that was nearly as much about current events in Baltimore as who will become the next mayor of Philadelphia, and how that mayor will handle the policing and criminal justice challenges facing this city.

The event, called “Transparency Now: The Philadelphia Mayoral Forum on Police and Criminal Justice Reform,” was held at the Catalyst for Change Church in the Powelton Village section of West Philly. And the forum was sponsored by two news organizations—Tech Book Online and The Declaration.

What Baltimore Tells Us About America’s Racism and Inequality

(TakePart)  The unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray—who died of a severed spine while in police custody—seemed to have caught elected officials, the public, and the media off guard. And those who are far removed from the problems, the challenges, and the indignities facing poor and disenfranchised communities in that city shake their heads in disbelief and wonder why this is all happening.

Surely, the distant observer or armchair pundit has questions. Why are they protesting? Why are they destroying their own neighborhoods? Why did they loot the CVS? Why didn’t the suspect simply comply with the police and avoid causing his own death?

These questions reflect the very real disconnect between the haves and the have nots in the land of the free, and the gaping chasm on matters of race. It’s impossible to comprehend what’s happening here and now—or know the issues we have yet to face—without having an intimate awareness of black America’s history.

Sorry Bill Clinton: The effects of your drug, prison policies need more than a ‘my bad’

(theGrio)  They always say better late than never.

But in the case of Bill Clinton’s apology for the war on drugs and mass incarceration, is it too much, too late?

President Bill Clinton admitted what few politicians ever do. He said he was wrong. He conceded that the policies of his administration played a role in today’s mass incarceration of America.

As CNN reported, the former president admitted that he and his administration touted the “three strikes” provision of his 1994 omnibus crime bill, while also pointing the finger at Republicans. The legislation provided for mandatory life sentences for people convicted of a violent felony after at least two prior convictions, including drug-related offenses.

How technology and social media spawned a new civil rights movement

(theGrio)  The revolution will not only be televised but apparently it will also be uploaded, downloaded, streamed, posted and tweeted as well.

What America has been witnessing — from the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Mike Brown in Ferguson to Eric Garner in Staten Island, Walter Scott in North Charleston and Freddie Gray in Baltimore — is the birth of a new civil rights movement. But this movement is a little different from your parents’ or your grandparents’ civil rights movement.

Social struggles for freedom, justice and equality have their similarities, to be sure. And to some extent, it seems we are still fighting for some of the same things, because the more things change, the more they remain the same. Racism and brutality are still around and apparently have no intention of leaving quietly. But the techniques and structures of organizing and movement building have met twenty-first century sensibilities. This new movement is online. It is on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, in your inbox and in a video on your cellphone.

Technology has helped give birth to the new civil rights movement.

Baltimore Police spin news of gangs uniting to protest into ‘credible threat’

(theGrio)  In Baltimore, the Bloods and the Crips street gangs are putting down their weapons and are marching together against police brutality. That sounds like a good plan, but the police see it another way.

As was reported in The Daily Beast, the gangs, responding to the death of Freddie Gray by the police, have decided to declare a truce and join the protesters, focusing their attention on, hopefully, fighting a corrupt system and becoming a positive force in the neighborhood.

Society always tells the wrongdoers among us that they need to change their ways and contribute to their communities rather than tear them down and kill one another over dumb stuff. So now, they are taking a step in the right direction. That’s how deep things are right now in Baltimore.

Calling people 'thugs' solves nothing

(CNN)  In light of the current unrest in Baltimore, riot shaming seems to be the new fad.

Everybody’s doing it, and while it is easy, it helps us change the subject and ignore the harder issues facing African-Americans.

What is unfolding in that city, of course, and is receiving national attention, is the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who died of a broken spine while in police custody.

The circumstances around the man’s killing and public outrage in the black community have led to peaceful protests.

And unfortunately, though understandably, things have boiled over, with riots and looting by some. Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) has declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard, and Baltimore schools are closed.

And people have lined up to condemn the riots, the looting, and the violence. For example, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was in front of the cameras Monday night referring to the rioters as “thugs.”

America Trails the Developed World on Paid Leave For Working People

(The Huffington Post) For all of the talk of American exceptionalism, the U.S. is exceptionally bad in the treatment of its workers.

America--the world's largest economy--is one of the few advanced nations without a national policy guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers. And the nation and its working families pay the price when they cannot take off the time they need to care for themselves or their children.

As part of a national tour to bring attention to the need for greater workplace flexibility for families, Valerie Jarrett--Senior Advisor to President Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls--participated at a town hall discussion at Philadelphia's City Hall on April 21. The event was called "Lead on Leave: Empowering Working Families Across America." Jarrett was joined by Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

April 26, 2015

America’s 1.5 million missing black men is nothing short of genocide

(theGrio)   Where have all the brothers gone?

The numbers are staggering.

According to a report in The New York Times, black women between the ages of 25 and 54 outnumberblack men by 1.5 million, based on an analysis of data from the 2010 U.S. Census. There were 7.046 black men of that age group not incarcerated, to 8.503 black women.

To put it another way, for every 100 black women, there are 83 black men. This is not the case in white America, where for every 100 women, there are 99 men, almost complete parity.

What that means, effectively, is that black men have disappeared. This reality lends credence to the idea that black men are an endangered species — not just symbolically or rhetorically, but based on the hard numbers.

Video visitation: Jails and corporations profit from the poor

(theGrio)  Video visitation is coming to a county jail near you.

Families can take advantage of new technology and talk to their loved ones through video conferencing. On the surface, the concept sounds good.

What could go wrong? What’s wrong is when you mix prisons and profits and companies make money off the backs of prisoners and their loved ones.

Texas is embarking on a revenue-generating scheme that is catching on across the country. Of the 254 counties on the Lone Star state, 13 have signed contracts with a private company to provide video visitation to inmates in county jails. Sixty percent of the people in Texas jails are awaiting trial and are guilty of nothing except not being able to afford to post bond, while the remaining 40 percent are serving a sentence.