On CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow, Morgan State University professor Jason Johnson discussed President Donald Trump’s visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and his outreach to the African-American community with CNN Political Commentator Kayleigh McEnany, CNN Senior Political Analyst Mark Preston, and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin.
On April 4 the city of St. Louis will have its first mayoral election since the Ferguson protests in 2014. While the suburb of Ferguson has become synonymous across the nation with systemic municipal racism and corruption, St. Louis proper isn’t much better. Although the city has had “Democratic” mayors since the 1970s, city politics are more racial than partisan. White Democrats and the few Republicans in the city routinely work together to limit or suppress black political power, which is why a city that has been 49 percent African American for decades has only been able to elect two African-American mayors.
When it comes to the City Council, white political elites have sliced up voting districts so fine that Salt Bae with a master’s in public administration couldn’t do a better job of diluting black votes. The city’s hostility toward black political leadership reached a new high last week when Tishaura Jones, current city treasurer and candidate for mayor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (the city’s last remaining major paper) to take several seats. From the St. Louis American, an African-American newspaper serving St. Louis:
On Monday, February 6, Tishaura O. Jones declined an editorial board interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jones, of course, is a Democratic candidate for St. Louis mayor in the March 7 primary election and current city treasurer. She explained her reasons for not meeting with the Post editorial board in a letter to Tod Robberson, Editorial Page editor at the Post.
The best parts of the letter, published by the St. Louis American, are highlighted below. Passengers, take your seats; it’s going to be a bumpy ride:
Two weeks ago, you used some of your ink to outline what questions you would be asking of mayoral candidates. You complained that “decades of sustained, abject neglect by city leaders have allowed a bombed-out graffiti-covered, war-zone image to prevail.” You said you were afraid to walk your dog at night and you called for a plan to “address blight and abate the graffiti that’s killing our city.”
You just moved here. It isn’t your city, yet. And graffiti is not what’s killing it.
What is killing our city is poverty. Since you’re new and you live in a great neighborhood, you probably don’t know that the poverty rate doubled during Mayor Francis G. Slay’s 16-year tenure.
Credit is due to Jones for pointing out the pernicious relationship between gentrification, race and media bias.
What is killing our region is a systemic racism that pervades almost every public and private institution, including your newspaper, and makes it nearly impossible for either North St. Louis or the parts of South St. Louis where African Americans live to get better or safer or healthier or better-educated.
But she’s not done yet:
St. Louis needs to change. I am not afraid to say that. And I don’t mean the polite incremental kind that Alderwoman Lyda Krewson promises. I mean change.
I will look at every issue through a racial equity lens. I will ask if every decision we make helps those who have been disenfranchised, red-lined and flat-out ignored for way too long.
I will look through each and every program in city government and make the changes necessary to ensure that government is working for those people.
From participatory budgeting to the modernizing of services, I will take steps to make city government easier to navigate, easier to participate in and easier to understand. I’ll ask police officers and firefighters what would make their jobs easier. I’ll put social workers into the police department so that trained practitioners will be doing the jobs police officers aren’t trained to do.
We do not need to invent new programs for much of what I plan to change. There are programs all over the country we can learn from and that we can adopt. I know this because I’ve traveled to see them. I know that galls your writer who wrote that I am “high-flying” and should be grounded. I suspect she meant that I was “uppity” or had a “bad attitude,” but didn’t have the honesty (or courage) to be that overt.
I plan to work hard as your mayor, but I do not plan to waste time ignoring things that are working well elsewhere. We have too much at stake in this community to do any differently, and we have too much to do.
It’s the same way I have run the Treasurer’s Office. When I was elected, I found an office that did a lot of things inefficiently, and I looked for ideas for how to improve. Over the past four years, I modernized parking and launched a major effort to change lives practically with the Office of Financial Empowerment. You described that as “just doing my job” and wrote that the white guy you endorsed would have done the same thing. At least two of you have lived in Texas, so you will understand what I mean when I call that bullsh*t.
As mayor, I’ll take the same approach.
I think you were in Texas during Ferguson. If so, you may have missed what happened here: We woke up. Black people woke up. Allies stood up. Young people spoke up. Our best minds listened and produced a pair of remarkable documents, the Forward Through Ferguson report and the For the Sake of All report, that are blueprints for the next four years of a mayor.
I understand that the Post-Dispatch is hurting right now. I hear that soon you will have to lay off more employees. With readership down to below 100,000, it makes sense why you would resort to a more inflammatory news reporting style to boost readership.
I think this line alone cost the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a few thousand more subscriptions:
There are some talented reporters at the Post who are very good at their jobs. I’ve had the privilege of talking with many of them. They have written about me fairly, objectively, and positively. I appreciate criticism when it’s due.
But what the editorial board and certain other reporters have done is nothing short of thinly veiled racism and preference for the status quo past. Something this city has had enough of.
I think there might be enough city voters who are with me and are ready to vote for that change in March and April. After we do that, you and your dog will be safer. And maybe you will consider hiring an African-American editorial writer.
Jones told The Root that she declined to seek the endorsements of the St. Louis Police Officers Association and the daily newspapers because of their systematic racism and bias in assessing black political leadership. Whether she wins the Democratic primary on March 7 or not, one thing is clear: The city of St. Louis, its local Democratic Party and press could use a wake-up call. Jones is the city treasurer, not some fringe “The Rent Is Too Damn High” candidate. If she feels strongly enough to put finger to keyboard and press “send” on this letter, there are likely thousands of voters in the city who feel the same way.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
“Stay safe, brother.”
“Be safe, praying for you.”
These are the paraphrases of just about every text, Facebook post and social media DM I’ve received since spreading the word that I was headed to the Republican convention in Cleveland this week.
The absolute palpable fear on the part of black people I know about the dangers of going to the convention of a party that was about to nominate Donald Trump was evident in every exchange. In the wake of high-profile police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., there was every reason to believe that right-wing conservatives would use the Cleveland convention as a billboard for their “tough on activists” rhetoric and crack down like there were no tomorrow. Is it really that bad on the ground though? It depends on whom you ask, how you dress and what kind of colors you’re showing.
I am not a war correspondent, but I have covered some fairly volatile political events in the last few years. I was at the massive protest marches by the YoSoy132 movement during the Mexican presidential elections in Mexico City. YoSoy132 was a student movement that led to over 10,000 citizens marching on the largest television network in Mexico to protest biased reporting and government corruption.
I was also in Ferguson, Mo., during the protests, and, to be honest, I felt less safe than in Mexico City. Everyone was terrified of going to Cleveland, and a colleague insisted that I go to journalist “riot training” before heading to the Cleveland convention. This was helpful, but also heightened my concerns that a city like Cleveland, which I have lived in for over a decade, wasn’t nearly as safe as I wished it could be.
The riot instructor said: “You don’t really have to worry about snipers, too much. They mostly like to operate in places with a lot of tall, but abandoned, buildings where they can get from location to location without being spotted.”
Don’t worry about abandoned buildings? Clearly, he’d never been to downtown Cleveland. While much of the downtown has been revitalized, the upper echelons of the old buildings downtown are still empty and haven’t been used in years. However, many of my fears and concerns have been unrealized in my first two days at the Republican convention, in large part because I am—ironically at a Republican convention—the right color.
By that color, I mean, yellow, red, silver or taupe: the colors of the press. The police have been on extra-special nice behavior throughout the week, especially to the members of the press and, oddly enough, even to protesters. As of the first two days of the Republican convention, and protests throughout the city, only five arrests had been made.
“The police chief said they are going to let everyone practice their First and Second Amendment rights,” says Jeff Johnson.
Johnson, whom many know from his media work and activism, is working as a communication liaison for the city of Cleveland during the RNC, and had high praise for how the police have handled things thus far. He pointed out that there was a distinct effort on the part of police to not focus on small petty crimes and only target significant threats.
From my own observation, this seems to be the case thus far. I saw five police officers charge after a man who was wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and aggressively ask him what was under his shirt. Cameras all swerved toward the incident, which happened just behind the MSNBC booth on the main convention strip. But as soon as it started, it was over. The man, who smirked at the cops and chided them, was left alone, and I saw a few police officers walk over to him later and laugh with him and apologize. Even at night, I saw a black woman walking along the side streets where about 100 officers were congregating, and they all just parted like the Red Sea for her to pass by without so much as a word.
It hasn’t all been perfect; this is still America, and it’s still Cleveland, and it’s still the Republican National Convention. On Monday, I observed neo-Nazis attempting to record and provoke activists into a conflict with police. I also saw a woman speaking in the town square asking for justice for Tamir Rice, only be arrested, strapped to a gurney and whisked away by the police. She screamed her name, address and telephone number in fear of never coming back alive.
Is the Republican convention a safe place to be for a black person? Perhaps. If you are a member of the press, there seems to be a distinct effort to treat you better, which is certainly more than can be said of Ferguson or Baltimore. Also, the numbers of arrests seem to suggest that activists and police officers have been getting along peacefully through two days.
However, there are two days to go, more people showing up every night, and Donald Trump has yet to make his acceptance speech. The city of Cleveland has made America seem safe again, but who knows how long that will last?
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
As the race for the Democratic nomination gets tighter, the serious gaps between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the black Democratic voters they seek become more and more apparent.
The Clinton name in the black community has retroactively sunk faster than the names Tavis Smiley, Bill Cosby and Stacey Dash combined. Her campaign’s grotesque race-baiting in the 2008 primary against then-Sen. Barack Obama is still fresh on the minds of many voters. Combine that with Clinton’s silence on the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s handling of the Laquan McDonald case, and her years as a “tough on crime” advocate in the ’90s, and it’s apparent that these missteps have made her a tough sell for many black voters.
Sanders, for his part, isn’t doing much better. Sanders seems to have all but discovered that black people existed last summer. He is a nonentity with the Congressional Black Caucus, despite having been in the Senate for almost 30 years, and he alienated much of the Black Lives Matter movement with his crusty Larry David impression during the Netroots Nation convention in the summer of 2015.
So, what do these campaigns do? In a move that pushes the envelope regarding both political expediency and decency, the two campaigns have embarked on a Black Lives Matter endorsement primary that seems more about their political lives than the lives of black folks.
What is the Black Lives Matter endorsement primary? It’s the rush from both team Clinton and team Sanders to secure the public support and endorsement of victims. Yes, victims of horrible acts of violence by police officers, vigilantes and eventually the justice system. Moving beyond elected officials or public activists, both Democratic candidates have sought endorsements from the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and others. Starting late last year, several members of those families have actually come out and publicly endorsed one campaign or another.
|Families of the Slain||Bernie Sanders||Hillary Clinton|
|Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin||X|
|Benjamin Crump, attorney for Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice families||X|
|Justin Bamberg, lawyer for Walter Scott family||X (Switched from Clinton)|
|Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner||X|
|Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner||X|
|Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice||Met with Clinton|
|Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown||Met with Clinton|
|Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland||Met with Sanders|
Endorsements are extremely important during political primaries; the more endorsements you get, the more likely you are to win your party’s nomination, especially at the presidential level. A senator’s endorsement gives you access to donors and voter lists, while a mayor may introduce you to local activists and volunteers.
None of these men and women in the Black Lives Matter primary, however, are elected officials, and none of them have stocks of cash. It’s not even clear that African-American voters would be moved by the endorsement of any of these people, despite their notoriety. Is it even appropriate to ask or accept the support of victims’ families? More important, why are these campaigns so desperate for these symbolic taps of authenticity?
“I find it downright vulgar and basic,” said Niambi Carter, a professor of political science at Howard University. “These endorsements are a way for these candidates to skirt past the serious issues facing the black community by saying, ‘Hey, I’m down with this family that’s suffered a tremendous loss.’”
Politics is a cynical game, and although it’s possible that both campaigns just want to rack up as many black endorsements as possible—no matter who the endorsers are—it still begs the question as to whether any real policies are being offered that could have changed the suffering of these families.
“If Bernie got Erica’s [Garner] vote, he did something to earn it,” said Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a prominent state senator representing Ferguson, Mo., and an advocate within the Black Lives Matter movement.
Chappelle-Nadal, who has yet to endorse any presidential candidate, has nonetheless been approached by both campaigns. She notes the importance of Black Lives Matter endorsements from elected officials but thinks that endorsements from victims’ families are a different thing entirely.
“I like Lesley,” she said, referring to Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother. “But this is not about her only. … If [a candidate is endorsed by] Mike Brown Sr., then maybe her endorsement doesn’t mean as much. Everyone has their own thing.”
It’s a result that we’ve already seen in the Black Lives Matter endorsement primary in a somewhat awkward way. In late January, Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, penned an essay endorsing Clinton. Just over a week later, Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, wrote an essay endorsing Sanders in the Washington Post. Justin Bamberg, a state representative in South Carolina and lawyer for Walter Scott’s family, initially endorsed Clinton, then switched after a sit-down with Sanders. In none of these cases do these endorsements make any real policy distinctions between the Democratic candidates. Which makes the aggressive pursuit of these endorsements by campaigns more about symbolism than any actual policy changes.
While it may be harsh to say, these families have nothing significant about them other than the fact that their loved ones were victims of police or vigilante violence and a corrupt and racist justice system. And that, unfortunately, is a fraternity of pain that actually has many more members than the short list of people who have become well known and whose endorsements are being so desperately sought.
The degree to which any member of any victim’s family feels the need to endorse a particular candidate is his or her prerogative. However, given both candidates’ newfound religion when it comes to criminal justice, this Black Lives Matter endorsement primary smacks of exploiting, in the name of political symbols and campaign expediency, families who are desperate for hope and justice. With so little to stand upon to earn the black vote, Clinton and Sanders are willing to cover up the holes in their own policy histories with lives of slain African Americans. Hopefully they’ll care more about black lives in the future than they have in their policy pasts.
This article originally appeared online at The Root.
America has a creepy almost NASCAR crash like obsession with “The Next Ferguson”.
No slight to Baltimore, but the idea of a sleepy Midwestern town going up in flames over racial abuse and protests shakes America more to the core than unrest in a big mid-Atlantic city known (fairly or not) for crime and dysfunction.
In my conversations with people in Charleston, Oklahoma City and Cleveland over the last year about police abuse of African Americans, at some point someone will say, “But hey, we’re no Ferguson.” I get what they mean: Ferguson is defined by weeks of rioting and violent circumstances that no one believes will happen in their neighborhood.
However, riots are a reductionist view of what happened in Ferguson. It was the racism, stunted community discussion and corrupt local prosecutors that really define what happened in Ferguson. With Cleveland Prosecutor Timothy McGinty announcing there will be no indictment in the Tamir Rice case, whether they like it or not, Cleveland may be following the same dangerous path as Ferguson, Missouri.
The shootings of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice both include police officers of questionable competence who’d been fired from previous suburban jobs before moving to the big city. Both cases ultimately turned on the behavior of country prosecutors who consistently demonstrated favoritism and partial leanings towards the officers they were tasked with prosecuting.
In Cleveland, prosecutor Timothy McGinty subpoenaed Officer Timothy Loehmann and his partner Officer Frank Garmback to testify. However both officers decided to submit written statements, which the prosecutor accepted, instead of demanding Loehmann comply with the court order. Which is pretty much the same racism, arrogance and resistance we saw from the Ferguson police when they released Darren Wilson’s shooting statement with so many redacted sections that it looked like morse code.
Some parts of Officer Loehmann’s statement are clearly contradicted by the video of the Tamir Rice shooting:
The car’s antilock brake rumbled as car slid to a stop. As car is slid, I started to open the door and yelled continuously “show me your hands” as loud as I could. Officer Garmback was also yelling “show me your hands” …
I observed the suspect pulling the gun out of his waistband with his elbow coming up. Officer Gramback and I were still yelling “show me your hands” with his hands pulling the gun out and his elbows coming up, I knew it was a gun and it was coming out.
You don’t have to be an expert on CSI to see that video of the shooting and Loehmann’s version of events don’t match up. It’s pretty hard to believe that Loehmann and Gramback yelled audible and understandable warnings to Tamir Rice when the time between the officers arriving on the scene and the shooting was about 4 seconds.
What’s worse, allowing this statement to be read to the jury is something that by all accounts will make it more difficult to get an indictment. However we saw the same racist misconduct when Robert McCulloch gave the Ferguson grand jury false information knowing full well it would damage any case against Darren Wilson. In both cases it’s questionable as to whether an indictment was actually asked for by the prosecutor.
Unfortunately there are even sadder and more distressing similarities between Cleveland and Ferguson. Both communities seem incapable of having or maintaining discussions of not only these high profile shootings but the causes of the community rifts that led to the deaths.
In Ferguson this was epitomized by the “I Love Ferguson” movement, while well intentioned, it was a passive aggressive silencing of any real discussion of the community’s ills, highlighted by “community” meetings that included few if any African American town residents.
In Cleveland that same attitude is being perpetuated by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, with equally good intentions but equally distressing results. On December 1, the same day that Loehmann’s statement was released, the Plain Dealer announced that they were officially shutting down all online comments sections on any stories written about Tamir Rice. The reason:
The simple answer is that we don’t fancy our website as a place of hate, and the Tamir Rice story has been a magnet for haters… — The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Essentially the Plain Dealer abdicated its role as community news source and discussion forum because a bunch of bigots want to spoil the party. This specious notion that if we just don’t talk about race, somehow all the problems will disappear. Even if history says the opposite usually happens.
I, like many Americans hoped that Timothy Loehmann would have to stand trial and be forced to explain his actions under the full scrutiny of the law and a jury of his (and Tamir’s) peers. Unfortunately that will not happen.
From compromised prosecutors, to impotent leadership, to lack of community discussion, Cleveland is following all of the bad steps to what happened in Ferguson Missouri. A constantly silenced and marginalized community can only be silent so long.
For all of the times I’ve heard people say, “This [fill in the blank city] won’t be another Ferguson,” Cleveland is doing the best impression I’ve seen so far, and the end results could be much worse.
This article originally appeared online at NBC BLK.