Anyone who thinks that racism in this country is history really ought to watch the video of Kramer going postal.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Anyone who thinks that racism in this country is history really ought to watch the video of Kramer going postal.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Friday, September 15, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
If the civil rights community began a movement to discourage corporal punishment among African Americans, I believe it would do more to stem the tide of interpersonal violence than any other strategy.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006
Why is the "Boston Miracle" -- the only tactic proven to reduce gang violence -- being dissed by the L.A.P.D., the FBI, and Congress?
January/February 2006 Issue
AMONG THE COMPETING STORIES about how to stop gangbangers from slaughtering each other, here's the leading contender from the street: Sometime in '77 or '78, at a South Central L.A. junior high, a Grape Street Crip named Loaf, from the Jordan Downs housing project, sticks a knife into a Bounty Hunter Blood named Night Owl, from Nickerson Gardens, killing him on the spot. One bloody reprisal leads to a hundred bloody more, feuds spread through the two other big Watts projects—Imperial Courts, home of the PJ Crips, and Hacienda Village, home of the Circle City Pirus. With all of them warring against each other—Crip against Crip, Crip against Blood—and the crack wars raging, and L.A. gunslingers wasting 800 people in 1992 alone, Watts becomes the national epicenter of the shadow fantasy that lives in the heart of every American, that Boyz N the Hood dystopia in which lunatic teenagers troll the streets with AK-47s, gunning down suckers without remorse. To be hopeful is to be a fool—it's all going to hell, steer clear—but, to hear Aqeela Sherrills tell it, the answer comes from the black community itself. First, Louis Farrakhan introduces a handful of rival gangbangers to Jim Brown, the retired NFL Hall of Fame running back. Brown directs a self-empowerment nonprofit called Amer-I-Can, and he starts inviting the four gangs up to his posh Hollywood home, feeding them pizza around the pool and pushing them to lay down arms. It's not all love and kisses: One of the PJ Crip OGs, a guy named Tony Bogard, had just shot and killed a Grape, and the Grapes riddle Bogard in return, though not fatally. But Daude Sherrills, Aqeela's older brother and a Grape OG, finally writes a cease-fire treaty based on the text of the Israel-Egypt truce of 1949. The only thing left is to make it real, to walk each other's streets without fear, and it's Aqeela who actually talks a handful of his fellow Grapes into the unthinkable: driving down to Imperial Courts and stepping into the broad daylight of the PJs' turf.
As soon as they show up, Aqeela says, people start running into their houses, yelling, "All the cats from Jordan Downs over here!" But then Bogard emerges, demanding they step into the gym for a conference. "He was talking about how, 'This can't happen just like this! It's going to take years! I just got shot up!'" Aqeela recalls. "But our Gs was over there, too. A lot of these cats is dead now, but they had a higher level of consciousness, and they was all just like, 'Fuck that shit, you know, we ain't never going to heal all that! That's in the past. We got to make this shit right for the little homies.' I was 25 at the time, so a lot of us young cats was like, 'Man, let these old niggas stand in the gym and talk. Niggas ain't going to shoot nobody, let's go outside.'" So they do. They walk right into a crowd of PJs. "The young cats from the Imperial Courts," Aqeela says, "they was like, 'Man, you all wit it? You all wit the peace?' And we was like, 'Yeah, we wit it!'"
Right then, in Aqeela's memory, "it was like, 'Fuck it, it's on!' People yelling it, house to house, it was unbelievable, you could see people coming outside, 'It's on! The peace treaty on!' Mobs of people driving up, girls seeing dudes they been wanting to see for years." By the next morning, which was also the day the Rodney King riots erupted, the cease-fire party had rolled back to Jordan Downs, the Circle City Pirus had shown up to make amends, and yes, even the Bounty Hunters, all those years later, came just to let bygones be bygones. "There were so many peace-treaty babies, it was ridiculous!" says Sherrills.
And here's why this story matters: Gang violence plummeted nationwide in the years that followed, along with an overall drop in violent crime, but while the overall number remains stable, youth homicide is rising again. Since the late 1990s, in fact, the only demographic to see an increase in murder victims is men between the ages of 25 and 34, and 67 percent of killings between young men are gang-related. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report for 2004, the latest with complete data, juvenile gang homicides have jumped 23 percent since 2000. And there's no new drug epidemic to explain the change, nor is it confined to the ghetto. Much of the new gang activity is occurring in the affluent D.C. suburbs, sleepy Provo, Utah, even the Northern California wine country, which has provoked a new round of that old hand-wringing about how our kids got to be so psychopathic, and why we return again and again to this same awful place. If we brought down the violence before, one can't help wondering, why can't we bring it down again? And that's why the story of the so-called Watts truce is so important: In the dysfunctional national conversation about how to move forward, it turns out that none of the leading players can agree on what worked last time, what exactly is happening this time, or, least of all, what to do next.
"People who really understand the street," according to professor David Kennedy of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "all understand a fundamental truth: that the stories we tell about gang violence are wrong. There are a couple of basic ones, and they're all wrong."
TALK TO LOS ANGELES POLICE Chief William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner who currently has jurisdiction over the largest gang-violence problem in the world, and you get a picture of enormous, well-organized gangs proliferating nationwide and even internationally. A veteran of New York's crackdown on the Sicilian Mafia, of Boston's early successful experiment with community policing, and of New York's now-famous "Broken Windows" approach to stopping urban decay, Bratton has successfully encouraged the FBI to develop a new "National Gang Strategy." Targeting the biggest and most advanced gangs with a combination of RICO prose-cution, intelligence gathering, and special investigative techniques, the FBI's new approach is modeled after those used on traditional organized crime—"something that I've been advocating since I came to Los Angeles and saw the scope of the problem," Bratton says. "It was quite clear that it had grown to national proportion, so that gangs that began here in L.A. or Chicago had now begun to spring up in other areas." Local police departments, in Bratton's view, are simply too limited in their jurisdiction. "The tools that the feds can bring into the equation," he says, "their investigative powers, their sentencing powers, it would be crazy not to take advantage of that. I had experienced that in New York, working with the FBI in their attack on the old-style mafias, and how they were able to break their backs, and the belief that you could use many of the same prescriptions against these gangs, whether they be Latino or African American, the two principal groups I have to deal with here." To that end, in fact, an FBI task force has just been established specifically to dismantle Mara Salvatrucha, a.k.a. MS-13, an international gang that started among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles.
But to hear it from people on the street, like Aqeela Sherrills, who has become a national figure in grassroots peace activism, speaking at dozens of conferences as far away as Croatia, running a Watts-based nonprofit that brokers truces between gangs all over the country, and meeting with the likes of director Michelangelo Antonioni and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, Bratton is missing the point. The mid-'90s drop in crime, in the view of Sherrills, happened not because of any top-down policing strategy but because thousands of men and women just like Sherrills, in a homegrown, street-level effort now called the urban peace movement, began devoting their lives to the tedious work of defusing conflict, day in and day out. Most gangs, they'll tell you, are less about drug dealing or violence than about community, desperate young people looking for surrogate families.
"A lot of people think that there's a level of sophistication within the gang culture like the Mafia," Sherrills says. "Not at all. There's no organization, there's no nothing." The Crips gang, Sherrills insists, admitting that he is still a member, "is not a sophisticated entity in any way. There's probably 1,200 cats in my neighborhood, and it's all broken up into cliques. So you got the Parolees, the Peta Roll Squad, the Boss Players, you got the Tiny Locs, and they all claim Grape. But they all in they own cliques. And you got the jackals in the neighborhood, people who rob folks, the drug dealers, the peacemakers, and then you got the killers. Individuals who are known, who shoot people." Responsibility for the new upsurge in violence, in Sherrills' view, has nothing to do with the gangs at all. It has to do with the system, with America's ongoing refusal to address poverty and racism, its continuing manipulation by the prison-industrial complex, and the government's betrayal of peacemakers, switching funding back over to the construction of jails and the arming of police forces.
Kennedy, a leading academic criminologist and the architect of the only anti-gang-violence strategy that has ever worked against modern street gangs, shares much of Sherrills' view. As chief designer of Operation Ceasefire, Kennedy presided over a public-private antiviolence initiative that got such dazzling results, so fast, that it is now known in law enforcement circles as the "Boston Miracle." Using a mix of prosecutorial and psychological tactics, Ceasefire has since been replicated in so many small to medium-sized cities that it has emerged as academic criminology's answer to the urban peace movement, the favored gang-crime control strategy of the intellectual best and brightest. And like Sherrills, Kennedy sees the emphasis on huge, hyperorganized crime syndicates as a red herring, a distraction from the real engine behind the routine murder of young men in American cities, and a product of the misconceptions that the public and the police have about gangs.
The first of these misconceptions, Kennedy says, echoing Sherrills, is that gang members are murderous superpredators. "That's not true," he says. "One of the interesting things about these guys is that if you can pull one aside and talk to him away from his boys, they start talking about how shit-scared they are, and how they don't like this stuff, but if they don't act in certain ways their friends and their enemies all turn on them. You get the occasional psychopath, but most of these guys do not have the same commitment to violence that they might to making money on the street." In the words of T. Rodgers, founder of the Bloods crew in the notorious "Jungle" neighborhood, where Training Day was set, there are only two kinds of gang members, "cowards and kids, and both of them just want attention."
"Another story is that it's all about drugs," Kennedy says, "and that's not true either." While most gang members do participate in the drug trade, the popular image of Crips and Bloods battling for crack-dealing turf is as outdated as the movie Colors. Nor, in Kennedy's view, is gang violence a sickness somehow endemic to ghetto culture—"because almost everybody in these neighborhoods doesn't participate. Hardly anybody goes this way." In Boston, Kennedy found that even within the most gang-dominated neighborhoods, fewer than 5 percent of young men were gang members. A 2004 outburst of gang killings in San Francisco produced a similar finding: Only about 100 young men in the entire city were thought to be truly dangerous, and a couple dozen were thought to have done most of the killing. "But because almost everybody deals with one or another of those fictions," Kennedy says, "it's very hard to engage with what's really going on."
What's really going on, in Kennedy's view, is small groups of young men encouraging each other to violence. "It's about respect," he says. "It's about boy-girl stuff, it's Hatfield and McCoy." This, too, is nearly uni-versal among people on the front lines, from Sherrills to T. Rodgers to former police captain Rick Bruce in San Francisco's notorious Hunters Point neighborhood: Gang killings are not about huge, hierarchical cri-minal organizations struggling for control of drug-dealing turf. They're about beefs. They're about patterned webs of vendettas and retaliations. Somebody looks at somebody wrong, or two guys want the same girl, and it's on. In San Francisco, for example, nearly 20 tit-for-tat homicides over the past decade have been traced back to a single car auction, after which a gangster killed a man who outbid him for a vehicle. "You have to keep in mind," says T. Rodgers, "that between the ages of 11 and 17 they're warriors untried. From 17 to 21, it's 'What's your claim to fame? I can impregnate every girl on the block. Or I can knock you out with a right or a left.'" It's what University of California-Irvine criminologist George Tita calls "expressive violence rather than instrumental violence." Tita says that even among gangs that are involved in the drug trade—and most are, in some way or other—the leaders will gladly negotiate trade agreements with one another even as their foot soldiers murder each other over petty slights, because strict street codes dictate a violent response to nearly any perceived insult and every individual is terrified of falling short of those codes. But because group psychology, among a relatively small number of young men, is the clear engine of an enormous percentage of urban violence, it's a perfect point of intervention.
KENNEDY WAS A RESEARCHER at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in the early '90s, when the Bounty Hunters and Grapes were gunning each other down and gangs in Boston's poor neighborhoods started doing much the same. The city's response, throughout the early 1990s, was like a blind grope through crime-control strategies. In addition to stop-and-search policies for all suspicious young black men and halfhearted attempts at community policing, there were street workers like the Sherrills brothers talking down gangbangers, even a powerful outreach effort by a coalition of churches, galvanized by a killing during a church memorial for a murdered gang member. Good stuff, and crucial to the success that came later, but it all amounted to gathering the pieces of a puzzle without putting them together—until 1994, when the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded Kennedy and his colleagues.
They started by forming a working group of all the law enforcement and community elements already involved—street workers, juvenile corrections, clergy, probation, parole, police—and even added a few, like the DEA. Then, in March 1996, when fighting between rival factions of the Vamp Hill Kings killed three gang members in the space of a month, they made a quick series of arrests, with help from the ATF and even local school police, and held a forum with virtually the entire membership of the Vamp Hill Kings. Supported by local clergy and community members, the working group then did what Kennedy calls "retailing the message." The message went like this: Violence stops now, the adults are taking over, and the new penalty structure says that if anybody in your gang puts a body on the ground, the whole crew pays, and fast. Every unserved trespassing warrant will get served; every petty parole or probation violation will get enforced; smoke a joint in public housing and you'll get evicted; open a single beer on the street or piss on the sidewalk and you'll go to jail. With the help of street workers, Kennedy's working group also made it clear to the Vamp Hill Kings, and soon after to other gangs, that this was not an indiscriminate war on gangs. It was a crackdown on violence alone. Gangs that didn't indulge in violence would be spared. And everyone was getting the same story, so if you chose not to retaliate for a slight, you had an honorable excuse: Your whole crew would go down. Flyers at the forum described a gangster named Freddy Cardoza who'd just gotten 20 years without parole for being caught with a single bullet. The working group balanced the stick with the carrot of job-training services.
The point was to leverage group psychology in such a way that the group itself would have an interest in discouraging violence. It was wildly successful. Within 12 months of the Vamp Hill Kings forum, youth homicides in Boston dropped by 73 percent. In little over a year, Operation Ceasefire returned Boston's youth homicide rate to a place it hadn't been in decades. And in much the way the Watts truce triggered a nationwide paroxysm of truce-making, Attorney General Janet Reno started talking about a nationwide rollout of Operation Ceasefire. More than a dozen smallish cities have actually done it, with stunning results. Indianapolis, for example, saw a 40 percent drop in its annual murder rate, and Rochester, New York, in 2004, saw a one-year drop, from 31 to 9, in the number of young black males murdered. In February 2004, a long-planned Ceasefire intervention for the nation's capital was triggered into action when a gunslinger from a gang that terrorized the Sursum Corda (Latin for "lift up your heart") housing project shot a 14-year-old girl who was a witness to an earlier shooting. Within days, 36 gang members had been arrested on drug conspiracy charges, and dozens of other gangs had been contacted to make sure they understood exactly what had happened to the Sursum Corda gang—and how to avoid a similar fate.
BUT HERE'S THE RUB: Ceasefire, which is also known as the "pulling levers" approach because it involves a simultaneous pulling of all the relevant levers on violence, is very hard to hold together. Our government is built around the parsing out of human life, assigning our need for shelter to one agency, our need for law enforcement to another, our health and employment and education to still others. Getting all those agencies to work together—asking government to address the complex nature of a human life, in a holistic fashion—requires extraordinary commitment from all parties involved. And as soon as you get a new U.S. attorney with other priorities, or your housing authority gets caught up in a distracting scandal, or a lowered crime rate encourages a redistribution of funding, things fall apart. Boston itself saw a 67 percent rise in homicides in 2001, to a near doubling of the 1999 rate. Something similar is happening now in Rochester, with gang violence roaring back after a one-year hiatus. In both cases, Kennedy gives credit for the initial success to everything that's right about Ceasefire—new Ceasefire interventions continue to have dazzling success—and he blames the subsequent failures that have occurred to the loss of momentum that comes with complacency. "As it existed in 1996 or 1997, Ceasefire is entirely gone," Kennedy has said, speaking of Boston. With funding from the NIJ, George Tita and the RAND Corporation ran a pilot Ceasefire program in an L.A. neighborhood that followed the same pattern: After initial success, the working group drifted apart, and nobody in law enforcement or the community took responsibility for keeping it alive.
All this makes it easy for Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca to dismiss Ceasefire as having little relevance to Los Angeles, which is significant to the overall national picture because, at some level, Los Angeles is the national picture. Accounting for 75 percent of all 10,000 youth gang homicides committed in California between 1981 and 2001, Los Angeles also accounted for fully 30 percent of the entire mid-1990s drop in the national youth-homicide rate; remove Los Angeles from the picture, and the story is very different, with equal numbers of cities reporting declines and surges in youth homicide. Individual Los Angeles gangs are also dramatically larger in membership than gangs elsewhere, they do spawn copycat gangs in other parts of the country, and they are so deeply entrenched as to be almost like community organizations. As Bratton points out, L.A. now exports Crips, Bloods, and L.A.-branded Latino gangs not only to every major city in the United States—and to most minor ones—but to Canada and Mexico. Aqeela and Daude Sherrills, in fact, were invited to New Jersey last year to work as peacemakers precisely because one of the warring Newark Crip factions was calling itself Grape Street, even though none of the Newark Grapes had ever been to the Sherrills' neighborhood. (Aqeela tells a funny story about Newark Crips asking him about various secret handshakes and rituals they'd learned, wanting to be sure it was all authentic: He'd never seen any of it before.)
Trying to stop American gang violence without stopping it in L.A., in other words, is like trying to reduce global warming with no help from the United States. But if you so much as mention Operation Ceasefire in Los Angeles law enforcement circles, you find a thinly concealed contempt. Baca, who recently helped the Crips and the Bloods reaffirm the 1992 truce, calls the Boston strategy "good for a community that has 50 or less murders a year. I would wish that we had that small a problem in L.A. We have 500-plus gang-related murders a year…spread out over 800 square miles." Baca's own prescription leans toward the liberal—a personal commitment to various nonprofits that teach so-called "life skills" to troubled youth, offering counseling and job training, and mentoring from police officers. Bratton, who is arguably the most important law enforcement official in the United States on the issue of gangs, is equally dismissive of Ceasefire. "There's no magic bullet," he says. "There is no single solution. And while the patient may exhibit similar characteristics, what might work in Boston may or may not work in Los Angeles. Boston's gang problem is very small. I've got 50,000 gang members versus Boston's couple of hundred."
As for his limited interest in street workers like Sherrills, Bratton wouldn't be the only one with uncertainty about their effectiveness. It's not that anyone thinks their work isn't helpful, but there's no consensus on how instrumental it is, largely because nobody can get any data. Criminologist Tita, for example, takes the work of urban peacemakers so seriously that he has a photocopy of the original Watts truce hanging on his office wall—the one drafted in part by Daude Sherrills—and he keeps a database of 40 years' worth of Watts homicide statistics.
"And look, trust me," Tita says. "I've done the literature search. I'm still looking for—and I have the opportunity to write—the very first real evaluation of a gangs truce. Tell the Sherrills brothers that I'm begging them to come down and meet with me and let's design it together so that there's no ambiguity." But for whatever reason, Tita says, they haven't heeded that call. And with the data Tita does have, he cannot find a single statistically significant effect of the Watts truce. "I even looked at the gangs that signed the treaty versus the other gangs in the community," he says. "Did their rates of participation as homicide victims or offenders change? I couldn't find that either."
The problem with truces, according to T. Rodgers, who still does gang-outreach work in the Jungle, is that "there's always a kid in the back of the group that says, 'Fuck that shit.' And that's all it takes." But Rodgers bridles at the suggestion that he needs evidence to prove the worth of what he does. "I'm just going to say it," he growls. "White folks come in with a magnifying glass and always want to know how shit works with a MacGyver theory. And some things just don't work like that. Some things are acts of God, some things are behavioral miracles." He claims 60 to 70 percent effectiveness in getting gangbanging kids to go straight. "But I didn't track them," he admits. "I'm not the RAND Corporation. I'm just a street worker."
Aqeela Sherrills feels the same way. "Even though the peace in the neighborhood is fragile as fuck," he says, "we maintain it, through dialogue and conversation, and it don't mean ain't nobody getting shot. It means that's all part of the process, that peace is not a destination. It's a journey, like life. And there's a movement in this country that wants everybody to see things through this lens, that if things aren't like this, then it ain't real. But as long as we can consistently come back to the table and have a conversation, the peace exists. As long as I can walk into the Nickerson Gardens and talk to those cats over there, it's on. As long as we can go holler at Sister and PJ Steve, it's on. As long as we can talk to Daude and Big Tank and Cal Boneski and the key brothers at Jordan Downs, the peace is fucking on. And that's our reality. Because if people really knew what the fuck it was like around here, you know, man, they'd cry every fucking day."
ACCORDING TO A 2002 REPORT from the National Institute of Justice, gathering 10 years of gang-related research, the view of street gangs as akin to the Mafia is indeed misguided. Data from a survey among almost 300 large police departments and members of four large Chicago and San Diego gangs found that while a few gangs—MS-13 would be one—are very large and organized, the vast majority show "little evidence of evolution into formal organizations resembling traditional organized crime. Instead, the gangs appeared to represent an adaptive or organic form of organization, featuring diffuse leadership and continuity despite the absence of hierarchy." Most gangs, in other words, are just a bunch of guys hanging out on the corner.
The NIJ report, titled "Responding to Gangs: Evaluation and Research," also found that traditional "get tough on crime" approaches—like the mass arrests of gang members and specialized gang task forces currently being directed at MS-13—have literally zero measurable impact on overall gang violence. (As if to prove the point, a press conference by Sheriff Baca, trumpeting the success of a recent anti-gang street sweep, was marred by simultaneous news of three Compton homicides.) Ditto for the Gang Deterrence and Community Protection Act, the draconian bill passed by Congress in 2005, which defines a gang as having as few as three members—just enough to make a federal conspiracy case—calls for stiff mandatory minimum sentences for gang-related crimes, and puts tens of millions toward prisons: The NIJ report shows conclusively that exaggerated jail terms have no deterrent effect at all.
The only responses that were found to be successful were the "life skills" programs that Sheriff Baca advocates, teaching conflict resolution and positive self-esteem, and, to a much greater degree, the Boston Ceasefire intervention. Ceasefire, in fact, is the only strategy singled out in the entire report as having caused a substantial reduction in youth homicide, and yet Bratton and the FBI appear utterly uninterested. Bratton is also ignoring a report commissioned by the California Attorney General's Office—"Gang Homicide in L.A., 1981-2001"—written in part by George Tita and released in 2004, which concluded with a single, strong recommendation: that L.A. adopt a Boston Ceasefire approach.
This may have to do with the past experience of various players—Bratton headed the Boston Police Department when gang killings had the whole city in a panic, and he left shortly before Ceasefire took effect and made Boston famous for solving the problem. He was also part of New York's "Broken Windows" successes and glamorous takedowns of the Mafia. One approach has worked very, very well for him, in other words, and the other has been mostly somebody else's baby. But Kennedy places the blame on less personal habits of thought. Most of us, he says, jump to one of two very different responses to crime: the criminal justice response, which is all about the moral responsibility of individuals and the belief that tougher enforcement can influence those individuals; or the root-cause approach, which emphasizes the role of racism and economic inequality in crime.
The problem, Kennedy says, is that neither approach leads to an effective crime-control strategy. The criminal justice framework has no way of accounting for the fact that gang crime is overwhelmingly about "incidents in response to incidents in response to incidents that happened before, and which will affect incidents which will happen later," and the root-cause framework ignores the fact that some people simply do need to be locked up. The criminal justice framework does make room for attacking certain groups—as in the anti-racketeering and conspiracy cases that brought down the Mafia and that are now at the center of the FBI's anti-gang strategy. But these cases will never solve the problem if they are not combined with a larger response that targets group psychology. "I don't have any sense," Kennedy says, "that any of the people who put that together talked to anybody who knows about these issues." As a result, Kennedy says, the FBI's new war on gangs is "as tired as it can possibly be."
The biggest problem, though, in Kennedy's view, lies with the dysfunctional nature of American law enforcement. Comparing criminal justice to "a real profession, like medicine," he points out that if there'd been a breakthrough in breast cancer treatment in Boston in the mid-1990s, and 70 percent of women who would have died of breast cancer were living, "then when people were talking about breast cancer in San Francisco they would not say, well, nobody's made any headway on this, this is an intractable problem, we're going to start from scratch. And if they did, then their patients would hold them accountable, but there is no mechanism like that in criminal justice. There is no real professionalism. How do you get to be a judge? Get a law degree. How do you get to be a DA? Get elected. There is no collective knowledge, no relationship between theory and practice. There was a time when surgeons were barbers, and what medicine did was bootstrap itself up. In criminal justice, we're still barbers, and if people in these communities, paying the tax bills and burying their kids and visiting their raped daughters in intensive care, knew the way business was conducted, there would be bodies hanging from oak trees. The presumption that most people have, that this is serious, thoughtful work, and that if you don't get good results it's because absolutely nothing works, is so wrong. And if people really knew, I swear, there'd be blood running in the street."
Daniel Duane is the author of the memoir Caught Inside: A Surfer's Year on the California Coast and the novel A Mouth Like Yours.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Sunday, July 02, 2006
Happy Birthday Thurgood Marshall
He applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but he was rejected on the basis of race, so he enrolled at Howard University instead. The first thing he did, upon graduation, was use his law degree to sue the University of Maryland for racial discrimination, and he almost couldn't believe it when he won. Thanks to his efforts, the University of Maryland Law School admitted its first black student in 1935. It was the first time that a black student had ever been admitted to any state law school south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Marshall became the legal director of the NAACP, and of the thirty-two cases he argued for that organization, he won twenty-nine. His biggest case was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. He went on to serve as an appeals court judge under Kennedy, and Johnson appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1967.
Thurgood Marshall said, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots." [Writer's Almanac]
Thursday, June 29, 2006
By stalling in renewal of the hugely important civil rights legislation, the GOP is throwing a bone to conservative Southern whites.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The Revs. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Joseph Lowery and hundreds of black leaders from around the country are focusing on mobilizing black voters for the fall elections. They kicked off a three-day black clergy conference Monday in Dallas.
"There are no gay people coming to our churches asking to get married," Sharpton said. "But there are plenty of people coming with problems voting or their sons in jail."
Sunday, June 25, 2006
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Connerly and his supporters "obtained signatures from 125,000 black and Latino voters by falsely telling them that the petition supported affirmative action," said the lawsuit, which also names Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and other state officials as defendants. Land has overall responsibility for Michigan elections.
Kilpatrick filed the lawsuit as a private citizen but will be asking Detroit City Council to support the action, said Sharon McPhail, the mayor's city attorney, who filed the suit at the federal courthouse.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Monday, June 19, 2006
Friday, June 16, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Sunday, June 11, 2006
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A Brown Girl Dead
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
For nearly two decades a part of the city¹s jails known as Area 2 was the epicenter for what has been described as the systematic torture of dozens of African-American males by Chicago police officers. In total, more than 135 people say they were subjected to abuse including having guns forced into their mouths, bags places over their heads, and electric shocks inflicted to their genitals. Four men have been released from death row after government investigators concluded torture led to their wrongful convictions.
...the land of the freaks and the home of the depraved.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Felton Turner, a Houston man who was attacked in 1960 by white supremacists in retaliation for the student sit-ins of the nascent civil rights movement and had the letters KKK carved into his stomach before being left dangling from a tree limb, died Sunday. He was 73.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Black women stew about the narrow, negative ways they are nearly always portrayed. They are either quick-tempered and full of attitude like Tyler Perry’s Madea character or the comedian Mo’Nique, or they are barely dressed and brazenly sexual like the women mimicking strippers in so many music videos
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Monday, April 10, 2006
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Let us strive to make his dreams come true.
Please sign the Remembrance Book and join me in supporting the Dream. Thank you.
Lessons of the last speech of Dr. King
Approaching spiritual death
Chasing the dream
If you love justice, he is your hero
Saturday, April 01, 2006
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Friday, March 17, 2006
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Monday, March 13, 2006
Don't forget our history. On this day...
In 1986, the state of Georgia pardoned Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman who had been lynched in 1915 for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan.
Friday, March 10, 2006
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Listen to Nawiye
Detroit Free Press
I'm a big fan of his. I saw an exhibit of his photography a few years ago that was wonderful. I'll never forget looking at a photo of a "colored entrance" when a black woman and her son came up to view it. I heard her explain to him what the sign meant. I felt as I have before, ashamed to have the same color skin as those who were responsible for the suffering of so many.
Thank you Gordon for the eyes that you opened.
The guy who takes a chance, who walks the line between the known and unknown, who is unafraid of failure, will succeed.~Gordon Parks
That's what I want to know!
Monday, March 06, 2006
Black Ball by Gerald Early
In the entire St. Louis region (both city and suburbs), blacks make up about 19 percent of the population (50 percent of the population of the city itself). The Cardinals almost always draw 35,000 fans a game, and often more than 40,000. Yet I never see anything approaching 7,000 to 8,000 blacks at the park. The Cardinals are a very successful franchise with a strong fan base. Plus, the team has been particularly successful the last two years, winning more regular season games than any other major league team.
Why don’t black people go to baseball games? Some blacks I know suggest that the game is too slow. But why would only blacks find that objectionable and not than any other group? Besides, wouldn’t that mostly affect the young, who have shorter attention spans and the need for MTV-like editing? Don’t middle-aged blacks like baseball?
Some have suggested that not enough African Americans play the game anymore. Less than 10 percent of major league players are African American. Most “colored” players today from Latin America and the Caribbean and consider themselves Hispanic or Latino. Black Americans do not necessarily identify with them, nor do they necessarily identify with black Americans. But the problem with this theory is that it supposes that blacks are only attracted to sports where they have a dominant or pronounced presence, like professional football or basketball. The opposite is clearly not true for whites. After all, most of the people who attend professional sporting events in America — including football and basketball — are white.
If this theory is true about blacks, what does it say about them? Do they have a need for a certain level of representation because they are a minority? Sports are supposed to encourage a larger sort of identification, beyond the merely racial. Athletes are supposed to possess a larger sense of representation. If not, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters would not have amounted to so much in our culture.
Others say blacks don’t go to baseball games because they are too expensive. But blacks make up a somewhat larger portion of the attendance at football and basketball games, and tickets to those events are even more expensive. Within reason, expense does not stop the average person from consuming something. Some have argued that blacks don’t feel welcome at baseball games because too many whites are there. This is the price one pays for being a minority. There are too many of the majority everywhere. It doesn’t stop blacks from shopping at suburban malls.
Or maybe black people have never really liked baseball that much, even back in the days of segregation, when they briefly had racial leagues. For some or maybe all of these reasons, black people and baseball have become a form of nostalgia in America. We indulged in a bit of that as a culture this week when 17 people from the Negro Leagues and the era preceding them were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. We might look back now on the era of segregation as a time when black people loved baseball and supported it. We might also look back at it as a time when blacks owned and operated the business of baseball. This aspect the game’s history was also commemorated with these elections and rightly so.
But as is usually the case with dealing with blacks in America, the celebratory (which is the only way we seem able to speak about black history now) imperils intelligibility. Indeed, the need to celebrate becomes almost patronizing — as if the fact that blacks accomplished anything is now worth giving them a pat on the head. (The victims organized and did something!) Celebration can even imperil the primary importance of an achievement, by turning it into a simplistic story about the triumph over adversity. The Negro Leagues now exist in the American Valhalla of sports mythmaking as the triumph over racism and segregation.
I suggest that view is blatantly dishonest. The Negro Leagues were the result of racism and segregation, not the triumph over them. The Negro Leagues were a sign of black people’s weakness and inability to function fully in American society. The Negro Leagues were a sign, not of black people’s pathology, but of America’s pathology.
Effa Manley was largely the focus of the news stories about the special election because she became the first woman inducted into the Hall of Fame (our society loves firsts). The fact that she was a white woman passing for black makes her all the more intriguing. What the newspapers gave us was an image of Effa Manley, the famed co-owner of the Newark Eagles, as a fiery, independent woman who fought for black baseball and tried to protect her players. But the Negro Leagues, with the exception of the years during World War II when black income exploded, were never solvent, always undercapitalized, didn’t control their venues, and were, in most cases, hardly a league at all, except on paper.
Most of the teams couldn’t afford to confine themselves to league games. There was little unity among the owners. They couldn’t even come together to enforce a reserve clause to keep players from team-jumping. And Manley was not the most impressive of the lot. Executives like Cumberland Posey, also elected this year, and Gus Greenlee, who was nominated, were more visionary. Alex Pompez, another inductee, was a far more important figure to Negro League baseball than Manley. Pre-Negro League figures like Ed Bolden and Sol White, whose book “The History of Colored Base Ball” is one of the most valuable sports books written by a black, were more instrumental by far in keeping black baseball alive, against overwhelming odds. Manley was colorful, and that, in this age of celebrity, apparently goes a long way.
Manley, like most whites and blacks who ran businesses that were made possible solely by segregation, never wanted integration in the way that it came. She wanted the Negro Leagues to become a minor league for professional baseball, to be the special place to create the black ballplayer. In essence, she wanted a sort of institutionalized segregation so that a black business could maintain itself. But racialized businesses confine both the black entrepreneur and the black consumer. I point this out not to disparage Manley but to point out the dilemma of black institutions in the United States, of which Negro League baseball was one.
Because of the conditions under which black churches, black colleges and universities and black businesses were established, it is impossible not to see them in a stigmatized way. They were established not to make black people independent nor even to help them establish a culture but to remind them every day that they were inferior to whites. Because of this, I think most blacks have wound up secretly hating both segregation and integration. Disappointed by institutions of their own making, they ended up desiring alien institutions with a history of saying they weren’t good enough to be there.
The story of blacks and baseball is not a nostalgia story but a story about the group memory of institutionalized racism. It is a complex story about ambivalence and adaptation, precariousness, limitation and pride. It is not a story of triumph or tragedy. It is the story of a conflicted people trying, with some success, to make the most of their conflicts.
The inmates had to heat the letter to draw out the message, written in invisible ink. When they did, their orders were clear.
Within hours, prosecutors say, members of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang sneaked into a nearby cellblock and killed two black inmates with handmade shanks as part of an order to "go to war" with blacks.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
In his Times column about Bonds on Sunday, George Vescey writes that athletes like him “may wriggle around in Nixonian self-pity.” The mention of Nixon brought to mind something else besides self-pity: the smear. To asterisk-ize Bonds absent real proof, as sportswriters are well on their way to doing in their self-righteous zeal — to protect something, perhaps the integrity of “these games” — would be to smear him.
The smear is a useful and necessary tool in the power game of politics. Now, it is useful in cleaning up baseball. Smears are all right, I suppose, when used in a righteous cause and when the object of them is a creep and a jerk (although there are so many of them in popular celebrity culture that it seems a bit mysterious to single out Bonds). Smears are all right, too, in our society because everything has become politicized and moralized. Good liberals find themselves fighting ironically for standards and non-ambiguity, the same as the conservatives. Our world must consist, as did the world of the medievals, of the good, the bad and the ugly. For someone like Thomas Carlyle, that medieval world was a very good world indeed, and one supposes that there were virtues in its limitations: Stern, self-sacrificing discipline mixed with witch burning.
Vescey would much appreciate it if Bonds would retire tomorrow and save the world the possibility of breaking the career home run marks of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. He writes that Major League Baseball is hoping much the same, although Major League Baseball — or whoever speaks for that organization — has been mum on the subject to this point. And why not? Bonds is still good box office and box office is what big-time sports are really all about. In the 1960’s Muhammad Ali taught us that people will come out to see the bad guy. And baseball has, after all, survived some awful sketchy characters on the field, from the virulently racist to the utterly drunk to the cocaine-addled. Surely, it can survive and even enjoy being entertained by some artificially puffed-up musclemen.
When speaking of Aaron, baseball’s all-time home run king, Vescey calls him “dignified.” Aaron has certainly become that in recent years, especially as Bonds’ reputation has slipped. But I remember very well Aaron as a player and I don’t recall that word being attached to him then. What I do remember is that most of the knowing coves thought Willie Mays was the superior player and that if Mays had been able to play half-dozen good years in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, as Aaron did, instead of the wind tunnel called Candlestick Park, he would have easily broken Ruth’s record. I also remember that most of the knowing coves thought Frank Robinson a better player than Aaron and Clemente a better fielder. But this was all before Aaron became a civil rights martyr, due to the threats he received when closing in on Ruth’s record. After that, I think, he started to become “dignified” instead of being a tough-minded, durable ball player.
The word “dignified” brings to mind for me the actor Sidney Poitier. When I was boy in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he was always called “dignified” by the white press — even when they snubbed him. After he presented the best actress award to Julie Andrews at the 1964 Oscars, reporters pushed him out of the way so he would not appear in any publicity photos with her. He was always forbearing about white racism and snubs and whites generally acting silly in the ways that only they can when interacting with blacks. He was sort of the Jackie Robinson of Hollywood.
Robinson is, of course, another “dignified” black man (at least for the first three years he played in the Dodger organization). He was even dignified when he had to testify against Paul Robeson before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949. Robeson was the bad Negro, who would be best repudiated, in the eyes of the Communist hunters, by the “dignified” Negro, Robinson. Today, Bonds is the bad Negro, the hip-hop sociopath who must be prevented from corrupting the achievements of the dignified Negro, Aaron.
Of course, neither Vescey nor any other white sportswriter would say anything like “Aaron is a credit to his race, the human race,” as the New York sportswriter Jimmy Cannon wrote about Joe Louis, another dignified Negro. But today’s sportswriters might say that Aaron is a credit to the game of baseball, which Bonds clearly is not. I am not sure if Aaron wants to wear the Sidney Poitier mantle, it being cumbersome at best, but it seems as if, in this life, the world must always be divided between bad Negroes and dignified Negroes — and dignity hath its charms. I assume it is easier for whites to understand blacks when they can be classified in this way.
Many blacks I know, being inclined to paranoia as blacks are, think that Bonds is being picked on because he is black. Whites are always out to destroy successful blacks — especially black men — in any way they can. This is what many blacks believe. When the ordinary vicissitudes of life come upon a famous black, most blacks are looking for the racism in the woodpile. And blacks always do what Stanley Crouch calls the flip test. When something bad happens to a black person, they always ask would this have happened to a white? Sportswriters are likely not to vote Mark McGwire into the Hall of Fame. He’s white and he was a god in St. Louis during that big year when he hit 70 home runs. We even named a portion of a freeway after him. (I wonder if Ozzie Smith, who did make the Hall of Fame and helped lead the team to a world championship, something McGwire never did, was a bit miffed about that.)
It is also unlikely that white sportswriters are after Bonds because he is black. (I assume many black sportswriters also don’t care for Bonds.) After all, the white sports establishment wants to protect Aaron’s record and he is black. Bonds apparently is a jerk and has been for many years and he may be a cheater as well, dishonest in a way that seems sordid and selfish. They have fair reasons not to like him.
But the pious framework in which they choose to talk about him ultimately does no one — Bonds, Major League Baseball or the public — any good. There is something about it that seems overweening in its condescension, unbearably self-righteous, self-serving, tendentious. It has the whiff of the sort of unctuousness white sportswriters displayed in days past when writing about black athletes like Dick Allen in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, Muhammad Ali soon after his conversion to Islam or Jackie Robinson once he was freed from his agreement with Branch Rickey to act like a pacifist college student at a 1960 lunch-counter sit-in.
Sanctimonious moralizing produces bad analyzing, I always tell my students.
Sports of The Times
Let's Throw Bonds a Retirement Party (Before He Changes His Mind)
By GEORGE VECSEY
OH, boo-hoo. One of these years, Barry Bonds promises us, we are not going to have him to kick around anymore. My response is, the sooner the better.
Bone-on-bone friction in his knee is probably not the only pain Bonds is feeling these days. As obtuse as he has always been, Bonds must know that he can never regain public trust because his personal trainer was caught scurrying to the notorious Balco laboratory.
As he tries to pass the home-run totals of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, Bonds is still trying to manipulate the world around him. The latest farce is that Bonds wants reporters to sign a waiver for every one-on-one interview (not that he grants many) to satisfy the legal demands of a reality show he is doing for ESPN, on company time.
Bonds is caught in a modest renaissance of morality. Despite the rather corrupt attitude of some fans — we pay our big bucks to see home runs, and we don't care how they are hit — there are still rules. Athletes may wriggle around in Nixonian self-pity, but deep down, the public knows.
I have no real problem with pitchers who doctor the ball or hockey players who sneak an oversized stick onto the power play. That's up to the officials to catch. Just like the Olympics, I am into degree of difficulty. Go after the big stuff.
In recent days, we have seen examples of weasels getting theirs. Nascar whacked Jimmie Johnson's crew chief for a week because he had blatantly messed with the car's specs. After Johnson won the Daytona 500, he suggested to David Letterman that he didn't want to know what his crew chief was doing.
The next day, Nascar added three weeks to the original suspension. The message was: Don't make fun of us, son. Nascar has come too far to avoid poking its nose into every manned missile hawking the corporate products.
Likewise, I endorse the midnight raid staged when a barred coach, Walter Mayer, was seen nosing around the Austrian Olympic cross-country and biathlon teams. You have to keep an eye on these Austrian skiers: Four years ago, they left behind a junkie's detritus in a house they had shared in Utah.
The recent drug tests came up negative, but there was plenty of suspicious stuff in their den in Italy. Too bad some Austrian competitors missed their beauty rest. That's what they get for harboring a known rogue.
The wink-wink, nudge-nudge drug mentality of cycling stopped being funny in the late 1980's when at least 18 young men from Europe essentially fell off their bikes, quite dead, from using erythropoietin, the blood-thickening drug known as EPO. Some of the revisionism by the Tour de France is cynical — leaking old, inadequate but interesting tests the moment Lance Armstrong retired — but, at the very least, cycling has toughened its testing, a generation or two overdue. Tyler Hamilton, apparently in serious denial, is paying a two-year price for the vigilance. Tough.
Baseball was forced to face reality because of the sloppiness, arrogance, mood swings and body alterations of a generation of sluggers. Bonds made a permanent fool of himself, in grand jury testimony, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, by saying that his trainer had assured him that the creams he had given him contained only flaxseed oil. Bonds is way too much of a control freak to get away with that silliness.
Bonds recently whimpered to USA Today that he was contemplating retirement after this season because baseball just wasn't fun anymore. The Giants are trying to get permission for Bonds to be a full-time designated hitter in spring training because he cannot run. But he's too stubborn to go play in the American League, probably because it would mess with his reality show.
Barry has 708 home runs, behind Ruth's 714 and Aaron's record 755. Major League Baseball is surely hoping Bonds goes away before he breaks the record of the dignified Aaron, but why wait that long?
It isn't fun for Barry? It wasn't fun for Aaron, receiving hate mail for passing the Babe. It wasn't fun for Mickey Mantle, gasping every time his knee buckled. It wasn't fun for Roger Maris, knowing traditionalists were rooting against him. It wasn't fun for Jackie Robinson when fans and opponents shouted vile things at him. It wasn't fun for Josh Gibson and Oscar Charleston and Buck O'Neil to watch mediocrities play in the all-white major leagues. It wasn't fun for the Babe, feeling his body falling apart, sensing the Yankees would never let him manage. It wasn't fun for Lou Gehrig, dying young.
It isn't fun for a lot of us, watching a miserable, bulked-up egomaniac whine. Barry Bonds wants fun? He could retire in spring training, leaving Aaron and Ruth at the top of the list. I'd sign a waiver to cover that.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Fighting for civil rights with Dr King.
Former United Nations Ambassador and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young speaks during a news conference in Atlanta Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006. Young will be the public spokesman for Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group organized with backing from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. that defends the world's largest retailer against mounting attacks from its critics, the group announced Monday, Feb. 27, 2006. (AP Photo/Ric Feld, File)
Monday, February 27, 2006
May 3-9, 1963 Civil rights leaders disagreed on whether to use students as part of the movement, but public perception changed after photographs showed the children being arrested, sprayed by fire hoses and dodging police dogs.
Good Question: Can a man love God and hate his brother?
Sunday, February 26, 2006
Feb. 21, 2006 -- The director of Milwaukee's National Black Holocaust Museum reflects on what's missing from school and community observances of Black History Month.
Feb. 23, 2006 -- This Sunday, NBC will air a prime-time documentary about the little-known story of Vernon J. Baker, a black WWII soldier who waited half a century for this nation to recognize his valor.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Rappers, as a Rule, Do Not Sing By CLYDE HABERMAN
Rappers, as a Rule, Do Not Sing
By CLYDE HABERMAN
SINCE some members of the Hip-Hop Nation seem to regard themselves as belonging to a separate land, perhaps we need creative ways to deal with the criminals among them. New York officials might want to check out Article 1 of the United States Constitution.
It says, among other things, that no state shall "enter into any agreement or compact with another state, or with a foreign power." At least no state may do so, Article 1 says, "without the consent of Congress."
Why not have New York ask Congress for permission to strike a deal with the Hip-Hop Nation?
If Washington gives the O.K., arrangements could be worked out with recognized leaders of that nation: Russell Simmons, Sean Combs, whomever. They get to go about their business, maybe with a tax break or two thrown in as a sweetener. But they must agree to extradite any of their own who egregiously violate our laws — say, by killing someone.
Just a thought.
Alternatively, we could get real and make clear to certain rappers that they do not belong to a separate nation. They are citizens of New York and the United States, and are expected to tell what they know about a violent crime or go straight to jail, bling and all.
This seems to be the direction in which the Police Department and the Brooklyn district attorney's office are headed in a case involving Busta Rhymes, the nom de rap of a performer whose real name is Trevor Smith. But their progress has had all the speed of ketchup from a newly opened bottle.
About three weeks have passed since a bodyguard for Mr. Smith, Israel Ramirez, was shot to death outside a warehouse in Brooklyn, where his boss was shooting a music video. The basic details are all too familiar in the rap world. There was a typically brainless argument. Nasty words were exchanged. Someone pulled a gun. Shots were fired.
And Mr. Ramirez, 29, the father of three small children, lay dead.
A plainly disgusted Raymond W. Kelly, the police commissioner, estimated that 30 to 50 people were at the scene but were unwilling to tell what they saw. They include Mr. Smith, who has been as faithful to Mr. Ramirez's memory as Enron was to its shareholders. Help catch the killer of a loyal employee? Not Busta Rhymes.
The police have been left in the ludicrous — or, to be true to this topic, ludacris — situation of practically having to beg for information. So the next step may be to force witnesses to testify before a special grand jury or else face jail time.
"Right now the detectives working the case have met the D.A.'s staff with the notion that they'll be using an investigative grand jury as a vehicle to induce witness cooperation," said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman.
That sort of grand jury is not commonplace. It is also not clear when one might be formed. But if that's what it takes to make people do the right thing, so be it. The same tactic had to be used to make recalcitrant witnesses talk in the case of Mark Fisher, the Fairfield University student murdered in Brooklyn in 2003.
AH, but we should be more culturally tolerant, some say. It is very difficult, they say, for a big-time rapper to cooperate with the police. He would be seen as a snitch. He would lose credibility on the street. Worse, album sales might suffer.
Poor Mr. Smith. What an ordeal this must be for him.
It is this sort of mind-set that has led critics to dismiss some hip-hop performers as "updated minstrel figures," to borrow from the essayist Stanley Crouch.
The film director Spike Lee has singled out 50 Cent, the glowering rapper who, as a result of a shooting, has more holes in him than a Dunkin' Donuts shop. In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Mr. Lee referred to a movie in which 50 Cent starred. "That whole mantra — 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' — for me that's criminal," he said.
There are other signs of rejection, including talk of an anti-Busta boycott, unless Mr. Smith talks to the authorities.
Thus far, his public remarks have been confined to a written statement in which he expressed his condolences to the Ramirez family. Naturally, he said nothing about the culture of violence that infects the Hip-Hop Nation and explains why his own bodyguard is in the ground.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Thank you for your support of the Washington, DC Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation, Inc.
As you know, we are planning to build a memorial to Dr. King on the Mall in Washington, DC to remember and promote Dr. King’s legacy and his universal messages of love, non-violence, and equality.
You've already taken the first important step by supporting our efforts financially. But today I hope you will take a moment to also become a spokesperson for the Memorial by doing the following:
1) Watch the virtual tour of our Memorial by clicking here, and then
2) Spread the word to ten friends here.
Getting the word out is the second most important thing you can do to help us "build the dream".
Thanks again for your support.
Harry E. Johnson, Sr., Esq.
President and CEO
Gerald Early on Ali’s Missed Opportunity
It may have seemed odd at such a shrine to Ali’s transcendence that I told the gathering that as new generations come along and as we ourselves age, we’re likely to see serious revision about the meaning and significance of Ali. My daughters, for instance, both in their 20’s, find old footage of Ali amusing but cannot understand what the big fuss was about. His fights mean nothing to them. Why were people so worked up about them? Why were they so transfixed by his trash talking? I have met several people who lived through the Ali era, who never liked boxing, and who, too, are mystified about why they were so consumed with the fights, why they thought Ali’s winning or losing meant so much. They speak of it now as if they had been in a trance or dream.
My daughters do respect his stance against the draft, but only in the light that Ali was a more honest and sincere draft dodger than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others. He couldn’t duck into the National Guard and have a good chance of avoiding altogether going over to Vietnam (many state National Guards weren’t even integrated in the 1960’s); couldn’t hide out in college and get student deferments (he was too poorly educated and boxing was not a college scholarship sport); and couldn’t run off to Canada (he loved living in America too much to do that).
As a noted military historian once told me, the Vietnam War draft was designed to protect from combat the people society most valued. One way of looking at this, as my daughters analyzed it, was that our country thought that Joe Namath, who was classified 4-F because of a bum knee but could still play football every Sunday, was more important than Muhammad Ali. Actor George Hamilton, then dating President Lyndon Johnson’s daughter, was given a hardship deferment to support his socialite mother.
“It was unfair,” they declare with moral outrage, “Ali was just expressing openly what other people felt about that war.” But they still don’t think that his stance against the draft makes him very important. To them, the 1960’s as a whole seemed a sorry time. “He was just a silly, naive guy who was a fighter and a draft dodger,” they said.
To be fair, my prediction of revisionism last December was not all that visionary: Ali revisionism has already begun. Mark Kram’s “Ghosts of Manila: The Fateful Blood Feud Between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier,” published in 2001, was an important shot across the bow. In his book, Kram, who died in 2002, takes a highly critical view of Ali during the 1960’s, insisting Ali was neither hero nor race leader. Many of the people I know who are big fans of Ali, particularly those who grew up with the Louisville Lip, were outraged by the book and imputed all sorts of ulterior motives to Kram. The most common story I heard was that Kram had originally written a positive book about Ali, couldn’t get a publisher, and decided to make it negative to get it published.
Now comes Jack Cashill’s “Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King’s Dream.” Published late last month, “Sucker Punch” is the most thorough-going conservative revisionist view of Ali or, as Cashill puts it, the Ali myth, largely constructed by a white, liberal left cultural elite. Cashill condemns Ali for a whole host of sins: for having “knowingly betrayed Malcolm X”; for “publicly turning his back on his press secretary, Leon 4X Ameer,” which led directly to Ameer’s death; for not having quit the Nation of Islam or protested when its members executed family and friends of the Hanafi sect; for publicly degrading Joe Frazier, his chief nemesis, “along the crudest racial lines”; for being “an unapologetic sexist”; for being “an unabashed racist, calling for an American apartheid and the lynching of interracial couples as late as 1975”; and for rejecting “his country in its hour of need” and expressing “no regret at the fate of those millions we all abandoned.”
Cashill is right on virtually every point. Ali did all these things, and more. Cahill scores some other good points, especially in making the case of how the white left needed Ali. In the end, though, by virtue of its very critique of him, the book endorses rather then undermines Ali’s importance. And Ali’s dissent about Vietnam, no matter its motives, was important for a free society. His hero status is deserved for the most part, despite his considerable flaws.
But what’s important about Cashill’s book has as much to do with the author’s own story, threaded throughout the book: a lower-middle class white boy who grew up around blacks in Newark. His is the story of how New Deal liberalism’s black and white coalition broke apart over economic and social issues, Ali among them. Ali never rose above his divisive times, like Joe Louis did in the 30’s, or Floyd Patterson tried to do in the 50’s and 60’s. Ali was merely an emblem of them. That is Cashill’s view.
Cashill’s father was a police officer who lost his rank on the force when an Italian became mayor of Newark and chose only to reward other Italians, even though Cashill’s father had supported him. His father eventually committed suicide. He struggled in a home with a single mother and three siblings as his neighborhood grew blacker as the 60’s progressed and whites fled in a panic to the suburbs. Eventually he was the lone white kid on the basketball court. Crime increased, services deteriorated, and he faced greater hostility from the blacks around him. At first, he liked Ali, during his Cassius Clay days; but as Clay became more racially self-conscious, joining the the Nation of Islam and speaking more critically of the United States, Cashill grew to dislike him.
I grew up in Philadelphia and knew a number of urban ethnic whites like Cashill. (I exclude Jews from this grouping, as their interactions with blacks were and are very different.) They tended to work hard, keep neat homes, hold conservative views greatly influenced by the church, have philistine tastes, serve their country when called. They were also staunchly Democratic, for two reasons: they believed in unions and they believed in the common man getting a break. The Democrats stood for that.
When blacks began to push for their rights, these whites hated it intensely. They thought blacks were complaining, and the idea of complaining they found distasteful. They also thought that blacks wanted something special because they were black. When blacks had been seen just as other members of the working class, urban ethnic whites seemed to see a certain common cause with them: everyone was Democratic and proud of it. Once blacks became a special grievance group — a move the Democratic Party supported for a variety of reasons — white urban ethnics found them and the party unbearable. They particularly did not want to be blamed for blacks’ troubles, as Martin Luther King seemed to be doing when he held his 1966 march through white, working-class neighborhoods of Chicago. The violent reaction he got was very predictable. As a teenager at the time, I thought he was goofy to attempt what he did, showing that he did not understand the difference in the mind of the white southerner and the mind of the white urban ethnic.
I know many white urban ethnics who felt, in the end, that they paid for the civil rights movement by being made the goats for it. “Rich liberal WASPs could blame us as the bad racist guys who were against integration. But all the integration was falling on us, in our neighborhoods and schools. They didn’t worry much about it out where the rich people lived,” one white ethnic told me a few years ago.
Sports was a common ground between white urban ethnics and blacks, but Ali seemed to violate that, polarizing things as a way to sell himself and his fights. In the end, there is a certain elegiac, tragic sense to Cashill’s book, as if, sadly, Ali failed his moment. I think Ali’s failure truly wounded Cashill, truly disappointed him. In such a whirlwind as the 60’s, it would have been miraculous if it had been otherwise.
Monday, February 20, 2006
Let Your People Stay By JOHN TIERNEY
Let Your People Stay
By JOHN TIERNEY
If you were a Democrat watching Coretta Scott King's funeral, you could congratulate yourself on the party's role in past civil rights struggles. But if you saw what's been on television in Milwaukee in the past month, you'd wonder what's become of your party.
Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, looks like public enemy No. 1 for African-American schoolchildren. "He's throwing away my dream," one Milwaukee student says in a TV commercial supporting the city's school voucher program for low-income families. Another commercial shows a black father on the verge of tears saying: "School choice is good enough for the governor's family. I ought to be able to have it, too."
Radio audiences have been hearing an ad calling the voucher battle "one of the greatest social justice issues we have in the country." The speaker is Ken Johnson, an African-American who leads Milwaukee's school board.
You read that correctly: the head of the public school board supports giving students in his system a chance to escape public schools. That would be unthinkable in most cities, but Milwaukee's voucher program has been so successful over the past 15 years that it's won a wide array of converts — except among the Democrats terrified of teachers' unions.
The governor repeatedly vetoed bills passed by Republican legislators who were trying to head off a problem that became official yesterday: there aren't enough vouchers for all the students who want them. The original law limited the number of vouchers to 15 percent of the city's public school enrollment — which works out to almost 15,000 vouchers — but the program has grown beyond that limit.
So the state announced a rationing plan yesterday that would deny vouchers next year to thousands of students, many of them already using vouchers to attend private schools. These students and their parents have been appearing in television commercials, paid for by a pro-voucher group, and showing up at the State Capitol carrying signs reading, "Governor Doyle, Don't Cap My Future."
The pressure has worked. The governor and the Republicans have negotiated a last-minute deal — expected to be enacted shortly — to stave off the rationing plan by allotting extra vouchers. That would spare the Democrats from the immediate prospect of kicking black children out of private schools.
But it still leaves the party in Wisconsin and elsewhere with long-term problems. How long will blacks vote for a party that opposes the voucher programs they strongly favor? And how can Democratic leaders keep preaching their devotion to public schools while sending their own children to private schools, as Governor Doyle does? He's what I call a Lypsy, an acronym for Let Your People Stay.
Doyle told me that he wasn't bothered by the personal attacks, and that he had compromised only to avoid disrupting students' education. He said he was still philosophically opposed to vouchers and didn't fear reprisals from black voters. "I don't think this is an issue that moves voters," he said, arguing that blacks distrust Republicans on too many other issues.
He may be right — for now. Howard Fuller, a prominent advocate for vouchers as well as a former superintendent of Milwaukee's public schools, told me he hadn't seen the popularity of the voucher program translate into much affection for Republicans among his fellow African-Americans, especially his civil rights comrades.
"Those people you saw at Coretta Scott King's funeral are not going to change," he said. "My generation pushed for social change through government solutions, but younger blacks are much more interested in private initiatives. They understand that the public school system cannot by itself be the solution to educating low-income children."
One of those younger blacks is Jason Fields, a first-term state legislator who has defied his fellow Democrats by supporting vouchers. "If the Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the little guy, where do we get off opposing a chance to help those with the least of all?" he asked. The answer he's heard from his party is that supporting vouchers can end your career if the teachers' union supports a candidate against you in the Democratic primary.
But Fields, who represents a predominantly black district in Milwaukee, is that rare Democrat who will stand up for his constituents against the union. "If they run someone against me, so be it," Fields said. "I'm willing to leave it up to the voters to decide who really cares about African-Americans, and who's just spitting out rhetoric."
[I can't stand Tierney, but if you want to read his b.s., you shouldn't have to pay for it.]