To Be Black Is To Never, Ever Feel Safe

By Lily Workneh, the Huffington Post

Gunshots tore through a predominantly black crowd that was gathered in Minneapolis Monday night to demand justice for the death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark. Five black people were shot.

A protest sign in Minneapolis, photographed hours before gunmen opened fire on a predominantly Black crowd.

A protest sign in Minneapolis, photographed hours before gunmen opened fire on a predominantly Black crowd.

“Tonight, white supremacists attacked the ‪#‎4thPrecinctShutDown‬ in an act of domestic terrorism,” Black Lives Matter Minneapolis wrote on Facebook. “We wont be intimidated.”

While their bravery is certainly admirable, the shooting exposed a fundamental burden of being black: we can’t feel safe anywhere

Some protesters said groups of white men had attended the gatherings since Friday and were“acting shady.” Others said the men fit the descriptions of those captured in a video posted to Facebook Friday, which shows two white masked men speaking openly about their plans to crash a nearby protest. One of the men brandishes a gun he says is “locked and loaded.” …

The injuries sustained by those shot on Monday are reportedly non-life-threatening, and while one suspect has been arrested and identified as a white male, the details are still to be determined. However, it’s fair to assume that based on witness accounts, this cowardly attack was carried out by men whose ideologies are rooted in hatred. The intent was to threaten the safety of black lives.

As details continue to emerge, we must acknowledge immediately the fact that black Americans are forced to live in fear before, after and as we grieve over this horrific shooting. ..

Black Americans are forced to deal with an unimaginable burden; we are to live in constant fear and still fight the oppression that plagues us.

We try to keep our heads high and fight on as our cries are muffled by the sounds of gunshots fired by those who will do anything to silence us. ..

I turn to legendary activist and songstress Nina Simone who once said: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me — no fear.”…

It rings true in every moment of every day for black Americans. But we continue to persevere for the freedom to feel safe — and that’s not because we want to, it’s because we must.

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Protecting history: Meet MKE’s rare books librarian (and ABHM Board member)

By Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As a 16-year-old, Maria Cunningham visited the Milwaukee Public Library’sCentral Library to borrow an old book for a school report — to be told the one librarian who could assist her was out that day.

That book on the old Layton Art Gallery was in the library’s Rare Books Room, and only the rare books librarian could show it to Cunningham.

This revelation — Milwaukee has a rare books room! — got the bookish Cunningham excited. “That is so cool,” Cunningham said, remembering that day. “I really want to get in there.”

Rare Books Librarian Maria Cunningham with the 50 lb. Autograph Book. Photo by Jim Higgins.

Rare Books Librarian Maria Cunningham with the 50 lb. Autograph Book. Photo by Jim Higgins.

What was teenage excitement then is now the glow of professional achievement: Cunningham recently became Milwaukee Public Library’s rare books librarian. In her new domain, the Richard E. & Lucille Krug Rare Books Room, a collection of thousands of books, artworks and unique items, Cunningham has charge of such treasures as John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” series of 435 hand-colored prints (1827-1838), and the “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,” a gilt-edged Renaissance book published in 1499.

Cunningham rolled out one of the library’s prize items: the 50-pound “Autograph Book” (1898), filled with signatures of late 19th-century celebrities such as Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Rudyard Kipling. Composers and musicians, such as John Philip Sousa, added bars of music to their signatures; artists including Maxfield Parrish enhanced their John Hancocks with sketches and illustrations. Artist Lydia Ely dreamed up the book to raise funds to build “The Victorious Charge,” a bronze Civil War memorial at N. 10th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave.

Cunningham sits on the board of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, which runs America's Black Holocaust Museum. Here she displays the Negro Motorist's Guide (also known as the Green Book) of 1936. Photo: Jim Higgins

Cunningham sits on the board of the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, which runs America’s Black Holocaust Museum. Here she displays the Negro Motorist’s Guide (also known as the Green Book) of 1936. Photo: Jim Higgins

A devotee of alternative history, Cunningham showed off a 1936 copy of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a cross-country guide for African-American travelers during the Jim Crow era. (Sadly, it lists only two safe locations in Wisconsin.)

Cunningham earned a master’s degree in library and information science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a certificate in museum studies. She joined the MPL staff first as historic photo librarian and then as digital projects librarian, working on making the library’s enormous collection of World War I portraits available online.

Her new post involves more than simply maintaining and explaining the collection. She evaluates books and documents from all library departments for their rare books potential. It’s not unheard of for another librarian to find something in a box, hand it to Cunningham, and ask her to figure out what it is and how rare it might be. Among many other criteria, Cunningham looks for special items from Wisconsin authors, such as a hand-colored Increase Lapham map from 1836.

“It’s really about the chase for me,” Cunningham said. “I really like the challenging questions.”

INOVA Gallery Shows Work by Artist and ABHM Volunteer, Jenna Knapp

Jenna Knapp at the opening of her exhibition at INOVA Gallery, October 9. 2015

Jenna Knapp at the opening of her exhibition at INOVA Gallery, October 9. 2015

Jenna Knapp’s art is both her life and her work. A graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), Jenna is also an activist as a white ally working for racial justice in Wisconsin and the nation. INOVA Gallery in Milwaukee is exhibiting her current work as part of their Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists Exhibition.

Knapp uses text, movement and video to “probe the relationship between race and media representation,” as Jessica Lynne observes in her catalogue essay. Her exhibition at INOVA includes several videos, some of them performances for the camera; a large wall drawing; and a neon sign that reads White Media Is Killing Us.

A neon sign and looping video message, part of Knapp's exhibit, at the entrance to the gallery.

A neon sign and looping video message, part of Knapp’s exhibit, at the gallery’s entrance.

Jenna is concerned with the way mainstream and social media perpetuate stereotypes of African Americans. “When another Black body hits the pavement, the media dig up mug shots instead of yearbook photos. These messages leave the majority of Americans believing that dark skin signals thug, criminal, and danger. When Dylann Roof (a white man) kills nine members of the Black congregation, the news uses descriptors like “gunman” or “shooter,” minimizing the hate crime….The media tends to create an “echo chamber,” where we are exposed principally to people who agree with us.”

Knapp’s art challenges us to think more deeply about what we absorb from the media,  raising questions rather than providing answers.

A scene from one of her videos, a performance in which Knapp revisits Milwaukee sites of mass protests of the killing of unarmed black man Dontre Hamilton. This time she is there alone, holding a sign that is a green screen, i.e. a sign on which passersby project their own thoughts and feelings.

A scene from one of her videos, a performance in which Knapp revisits Milwaukee sites of mass protests of the killing of unarmed black man Dontre Hamilton. This time she is there alone, holding a sign that is a green screen, i.e. a sign on which passersby project their own thoughts and feelings.

As part of her activism, Jenna has served ABHM in several capacities as a volunteer. Most recently she chaired the Crowd Funding Committee that successfully raised funds to publish a new illustrated and annotated edition of A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story by ABHM Founder, Dr. James Cameron. She also shot and produced videos for the campaign.

Knapp’s exhibit can be experienced here:

INOVA Gallery 

2155 N. Prospect Ave, Milwaukee WI

October 9, 2015 through January 9, 2016 

INOVA showcases emerging forms of multidisciplinary contemporary art— dynamic work that often resides in between and outside of conventional genres. Each project and exhibition includes collaboration with UWM partners and community organizations, providing opportunities for exchange between exhibiting artists, university scholars and scientists, local artists, and the larger community of Milwaukee.

A wall drawing in Knapp's exhibition.

A wall drawing in Knapp’s exhibition.

More than 30 purported ‘White Student Unions’ pop up across the country

By Yanan Wang, the Washington Post

Friday night, the Union of White NYU Students, a “community” on Facebook, posted its first status update.


Linking to a student-run blog addressing diversity issues at New York University, the union’s Facebook admin mused, “What does ‘diversity’ mean other than ‘not white’? I’m not sure there is an answer to this. Is the word ‘diversity’ itself a discriminatory term against whites?”…

At around the same time, similar pages emerged in connection with other colleges in the U.S. and Canada — at the University of California Berkeley, Swarthmore College, the University of Missouri and theUniversity of British Columbia. As of Tuesday morning, there are roughly 30 Facebook pages purporting to represent some form of a “White Students Union,” all of which were created within the past few days, according to a user on Medium who referred to an online spreadsheet of the pages.

Several of the pages feature the same statement of purpose, beginning with a welcome to “students of European descent (and allies)” and concluding with a “vision” of a future in which “every ethnic group has the right to organize and represent themselves and their interests.”

Despite the NYU group’s mention of “weekly meetings,” observers have speculated that these newly formed unions are largely fake, existing only in the realm of social media and without a real presence on the campuses to which they claim to belong…

NYU spokesman Matt Nagel said in a statement to NYULocal that the organization was never registered at the university and that the Facebook page was using the school’s logo illegally and without permission.

“We reject — and we call on others reject — efforts such as this to derail or distort candid, thoughtful discourse on race,” Nagel said.

Andrew Anglin, who runs the blog the Daily Stormer, which has been described as a “neo-Nazi website,” wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post that he has been encouraging the formation of such groups for years, though he denies being directly involved with their sudden rise over the weekend…

“Whites need to organize and protect their interests in the face of rising Black terrorism,” he wrote. “The goal of a White Student Union would be to push back against this, and also to show Whites across the country that it is okay to be White, it is okay to defend your history and your civilization.”…

The White Students Union wave appears to have started with the “Illini White Students Union,” which accused the Black Lives Matter movement of “disrupting student daily life” and “marginalizing” white students…

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Fighting Poverty, Plagued by Violence: Why 10,000 Black Women in Brazil Marched for Their Rights

Black women from all over Brazil, of different backgrounds, education and socioeconomic status, came together to protest widespread inequality.

BY , The Root

They were lawyers, feminists, Christians, transgender women, domestic workers, militants, favela dwellers, politicians, students and many more. Despite their differences in beliefs, education and income, on Wednesday they came together behind the one thing they had in common: being a black woman in Brazil. On that day, more than 10,000 black women from all over the country gathered in…Brasilia, for the first national black women’s march—Marcha das Mulheres Negras. The march’s tagline was, “Against racism and violence and for the well-being.”

More than 10,000 women from Brazil march for their rights on November 18, 2015.  (Photo credit: Kiratiana Freelon)

More than 10,000 women from Brazil march for their rights on November 18, 2015. (Photo credit: Kiratiana Freelon)

“This is the first time black women coming from all parts of the country came to Brasilia with the same message,” said Ivana Braga…“It doesn’t matter if a black woman is in Congress, is a civil servant, in academia or is a domestic worker; their skin color will continue to play a part in how their rights are denied.”

Braga, 38, marched alongside her 63-year-old mother, Maria dos Rosana Moraes. “It was important for me to bring my mother because she has been a domestic servant since she was 13 years old,” said Braga, who promotes women’s rights in Maranhão and is a Fulbright scholar. “She was denied rights her entire life.

“This isn’t just my fight or her fight. It comes from generations of women who were denied their rights,” Braga added.

Statistics show that black Brazilian women suffer some of the highest rates of violence and poverty in Brazil. A study…found that violence against black women in Brazil increased 54 percent between 2003 and 2013. In 2013…more than 2,800 black women died from violence. Violence against white women in the same 10-year period decreased 18 percent.

Black women are also losing their…family members to violence. Of the 60,000 homicides in Brazil each year, more 40,000 of the victims are blacks. From 2002 until 2012, the number of black victims of homicide increased from 29,656 to 41,127. Black women even suffer in the workplace…On average, they earn $364 per month, which is about 44 percent of the average pay for white men, 75 percent of the pay for black men and 60 percent of the pay for white women.

National organizers planned the march for almost two years. It had been originally scheduled for…May 13, the day millions of slaves were freed in Brazil in 1888. But organizers changed the date to Nov. 18 to coincide with the National Week of Black Consciousness in Brazil. During this week, Afro-Brazilians celebrate the life of Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of a community of escaped slaves in Brazil that existed more than 300 years ago. Nov. 20 is the Day of Black Consciousness in Brazil…

Members of the Sisterhood of Our Lady of Good Death cheered on black women marching for their rights.  (Photo credit: Kiratiana Freelon)

Members of the Sisterhood of Our Lady of Good Death cheered on black women marching for their rights. (Photo credit: Kiratiana Freelon)

Volunteer organizers in…Brazil worked closely with local communities for more than a year to promote the event and to raise money to bring thousands of women to Brasilia. Organizers in Niteroi sold feijoada dinners and T-shirts. Rio de Janeiro organizers even held a local premarch…July 26 to celebrate the Day of the Black Woman in Latin America and the Caribbean.

As a regional organizer, Braga spent months visiting local communities of black women to talk to them about racism, violence and socioeconomic issues…Five busloads of women departed from São Luis on the Monday before the march and arrived in Brasilia Wednesday in the early-morning hours. The marchers slept in a local stadium, and by 11 a.m. the same day, they started to march.

Priestesses of Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion, led the marchers…toward Brazil’s congressional building. Along the way, the women…sang, chanted and danced to inspirational music.

“I cried when I was marching,” said Jamille Sepol, vice president of the Justiça Negra collective. “But I was crying because I was happy to experience this moment for black people, black women, the black movement, for black youth and children. We needed this pride, and this day was a day to be proud of…”

Shortly after the march, a group of black women met with the president and Nilma Lino Gomes, Brazil’s minister of women, racial equality and human rights. The goal of the march was to amplify the voice of black women in Brazil, and activists say they have no doubt that they succeeded.

“As we leave this march, I know that the black woman’s fight in Brazil is stronger,” Braga said. “We won’t be as invisible any more, and our concerns and needs will start to be addressed on the political agenda.”

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.

ABHM’s Reggie Jackson Receives “Eliminating Racism Award”

The YWCA of Southeast Wisconsin will present ABHM Head Griot Reggie Jackson with its Eliminating Racism Award on December 1, 2015 at its annual Evening to Promote Racial Justice. 

About the Event

Dr. Malveaux is a labor economist, noted author, and commentator for ABC, BET, CNN, Fox News, LA Times, NBC, PBS, and USA Today. During her time as the President of Bennett College for Women, Dr. Malveaux was the architect of exciting and innovative transformation at America’s oldest historically black college for women.

Dr. Malveaux is a labor economist, noted author, and commentator for ABC, BET, CNN, Fox News, LA Times, NBC, PBS, and USA Today. During her time as the President of Bennett College for Women, Dr. Malveaux was the architect of exciting and innovative transformation at America’s oldest historically black college for women.

“Evening” places the spotlight on racial justice by featuring a nationally recognized keynote speaker on the topic. This year, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted labor economist and author of Economy, Race and Justice in the 21st Century. The event – including hors d’oeuvres/cash bar, awards ceremony, keynote and book signing – takes place at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, December 1st from 5:00pm to 8:00pm. Click for more information and to buy tickets.

About Reggie Jackson

Reggie Jackson, Head Griot, America's Black Holocaust Museum

Reggie Jackson, ABHM Head Griot and Board Chair, Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation

In 2002, Reggie Jackson, an electrician, was driving down North Avenue when he noticed a small building with an unusual name: America’s Black Holocaust Museum. He decided to stop and go inside. He was met by an elderly gentleman who gave him a tour and talk that changed his life. That gentleman was Dr. James Cameron, the unsung civil rights hero who survived a lynching in Indiana in 1930 and founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee in 1988.

Reggie was studying to become a history teacher and recognized the value of the stories at the museum, stories largely absent from American history textbooks. Little did he know that day that he was to follow in Dr. Cameron’s footsteps as a griot–a speaker and historian–educating the public about race and racism.

Shortly thereafter Reggie began spending most of his free time at the museum. He took training as a volunteer griot (docent) and began regularly giving tours to museum visitors. He has never stopped serving as an ABHM griot, even though the museum closed its facility in 2008, two years after Dr. Cameron’s death. Reggie has continued to this day volunteering countless hours each week as a researcher, writer, and speaker working to eliminate racism by building the public’s knowledge and engaging their conscience in Milwaukee and beyond.

ABHM Head Griot, Reggie Jackson, talks with students about American history.

ABHM Head Griot, Reggie Jackson, talks with students about American history.

Reggie has an amazing capacity to read, research, and absorb American history. He has a talent for synthesizing the material to make it compelling and meaningful for youth and adults from diverse racial/ethnic, socio-economic, and educational backgrounds. He was quickly tapped to become the Head Griot at ABHM and train the new volunteer griots, which he did as a volunteer for years.

His dedication to ABHM and its mission led to his being invited to serve on the museum’s board, eventually becoming its chair in 2005. When the museum was forced to shutter in 2008, Reggie worked with a group of community volunteers to bring ABHM back to life as a virtual (online) museum. He helped form the Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation to operate the museum and other projects aimed at educating the public and combatting racism. Since 2012 he has served as the Legacy Foundation’s board president.

In the past Reggie also represented the museum as a frequent and popular public speaker and diversity trainer at venues around the city, state, and even in other parts of the country. He continues to do so today. He is invited to a wide range of venues including public libraries, colleges and universities, corporations like Harley Davidson here and RBC Dain Financial in Minneapolis, and community organizations and clubs as varied as the Rotary, Jewish Community Center, Wisconsin African American Women’s Center, and the South Shore Yacht Club.

During this past year, Reggie has drawn large audiences to his new 4-part series on Do Black Lives Matter? at libraries in Racine and Milwaukee. He has also been a facilitator of a 6-part film/dialogue series entitled Hidden History: The Black History You Never Learned in School as well as two consecutive book club discussion series sponsored by Rid Racism Milwaukee based on Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness and Daniel Hunter’s Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow.

Reggie has presented at national academic conferences, such as the Without Sanctuary conference on lynching at the Center for the Study of the New South at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte. He is also frequently called upon as a skilled facilitator of interracial dialogue. Most of this work is unpaid.

Reggie speaks on a wide range of topics that help the public understand the underreported history of anti-black injustice and its contemporary ramifications. His dynamic and insightful presentations lead people to reassess their views on race and become inspired to act to eliminate racism. A small sample of his subjects includes: The History of the N-Word; African Americans in Milwaukee; The Scientific and Medical Devaluation of Black Bodies; The Incredible Journey of Joshua Glover; and Anti-Racism Work: What Can You Do?

Reggie is an independent scholar who carefully researches his topics and develops excellent teaching tools. Liz Caldwell of the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, who has attended several of Reggie’s series, recently expressed a reaction common to participants: “He has given me insight into how Americans came to be divided by race….His scholarly, provocative presentations are at times hard to hear, but necessary in one’s journey to unlearn racism…. Mr. Jackson has a way of tying many layers of history into a comprehensive story of how racism has changed its form but still remains present.”

Jackson is also an accomplished writer. In 2014 the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion and the Greater Together project asked him to write “Reflections on 10 Key Issues” for their widely disseminated publication Building Thriving Community: Beyond Segregation in Milwaukee. As a scholar-griot, Reggie has curated exhibits in ABHM’s virtual museum, such as War on Drugs–or War on Blacks? and Traces of the Trade: The North’s Complicity in Slavery. ABHM’s online exhibits reach thousands of viewers each year from around the globe, including students doing research for classes. Reggie also authored the Afterword in the soon to be released 3rd edition of Dr. Cameron’s memoir, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story (in press).

In addition to his heavy volunteer commitment with ABHM/The Dr. James Cameron Legacy Foundation, Reggie sits on the board of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion and the Wisconsin Humanities Council. He also serves on the Executive Committee of Rid Racism Milwaukee. These organizations recruited Reggie because he brings a keen intelligence, needed perspective, excellent judgement and expertise in issues of diversity, cultural competency, and racial justice.

Reggie has served for years as a volunteer coach for youth sports, which he does after a full day of working as a special education teacher with children in Milwaukee’s inner city schools. He is also a devoted husband and father.


White Americans long for the 1950s, when they didn’t face so much discrimination

By Janell Ross, the Washington Post

In a new poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) on Tuesday, a whopping 43 percent of Americans told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as large a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups. And an even bigger share of Americans — 53 percent — told pollsters American culture and “way of life” have mostly changed for the worse since 1950.

The two would appear to be related. Here’s how.victim

First, there are some real and large differences in the way that different groups of Americans answered those two questions up above. Half of white Americans — including 60 percent of the white working class — told researchers that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities. Meanwhile, 29 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of black Americans agreed. White Americans feel put-upon and mistreated — and large shares of non-white Americans do not seem to have any knowledge of the challenges that white Americans say they face.

Of course, there are always aspects of other people’s lives that we do not or cannot understand. But the sheer size of the racial/ethnic gap concerning perceived discrimination against white Americans is particularly interesting because there is very little in the way of objective evidence of this discrimination and the disadvantage that typically follows. On just about every measure of social or economic well-being, white Americans fare better than any other group…

White Americans are, as a group, born healthier and live longer and get better health care, jobs, education and housing in the years in between. Yet half of white Americans believe that discrimination against them is as big a problem in their lives as it is for those of people of color. But there’s just no evidence to back that up.

What does exist is ample evidence of continued-but-shrinking racial and ethnic inequality in many arenas and utter stagnation and backsliding in others. Basically, what’s changed since the 1950s — outside of technological innovations such as this here Internet — is that white Americans no longer have an exclusive or almost-exclusive hold on the best housing, jobs, schools or the ballot box…

A full 60 percent of black Americans and 54 percent of Latinos told PRRI researchers that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s. In contrast, only 42 percent of white Americans agreed. In fact, 57 percent of white Americans told pollsters that the American way of life has mostly changed for the worse over the past 60 years.NoWhiteGuys

Yes, nearly 60 percent of white Americans believe that life in America before the advent of the cassette tape, the ATM, IVF, the hand-held calculator and the bar code was better than it is today. Apparently life was very good for these Americans,  when segregated public facilities were a legal requirement in the South and Southeast and a social norm in many other places. Most people of color could not obtain credit or a loan from most “mainstream” banks. Most women of all races and ethnicities  could not do so either. This was a vastly different America, one where life was not at all easy for a whole lot of people. Still, this is the America for which apparently many white Americans long.

That this is understood as a better “way of life” is, to say the least, disturbing…

To believe the things highlighted in the PRRI poll, one either has to be tragically misinformed, unwilling to accept widely available facts or utterly unconcerned with the conditions that shape many Americans’ lives…

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.


Campus Racism Protests Didn’t Come Out Of Nowhere, And They Aren’t Going Away Quickly

Mizzou seems to have catalyzed years of tension over inequality and race.

Read more Breaking News here.

Residents of Poor Neighborhoods See More Than Their Share of Costly Municipal Citations

By Brendan O’Brien, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service

Johnny Ruffin reached into his wallet and pulled out $35…defiantly displaying most of the money he had to his name for anyone to see.

About 10 minutes earlier, Ruffin explained his financial plight to a Milwaukee Municipal Court judge who had none of it, telling him that he must pay $120, the last of the $1,200 in fines and fees that he had amassed over the last decade for various minor traffic and drug offenses.

“Tickets have just built up. I have been paying since 2005 and I still can’t believe I’m not caught up… every time I pay $60, $60, $60,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know how he’ll find $120.

Photo Credit: Sue Vliet

Photo Credit: Sue Vliet

The 35-year-old black man is no saint. But the two-time felon has been trying to make amends by working a full-time job at a gun factory and routinely making payments to the court system to avoid jail time, despite claiming that the amount he was told he still owed is inaccurate.

“A lot of the stuff they got me on wasn’t even me…” he said. “I’m locked into the system until I can get it all cleaned up. I’m going to be stuck for awhile. I’m chalking it up to the system.”

Ruffin’s situation is emblematic of the financial entanglement many poor black men have gotten themselves into with the city’s municipal judicial system, according to local experts who say the system criminalizes poverty by levying monetary penalties, driver’s license suspensions and ultimately jail time on defendants who do not have the means to pay their citations.

“This is a part of the cycle of poverty,” said John Pawasarat, director of the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“It’s a pretty irresponsible way to do business if you’re a public body dealing with the citizens in your city. These people are on the fringe and this is the last thing they need,” said Pawasarat…

Despite the rampant poverty that grips Milwaukee’s inner city, citations that carry a relatively hefty fine are one of the city’s methods of choice to punish offenders for non-criminal infractions.

For instance, a disorderly conduct citation carries a fine of at least $200, which could amount to two-thirds of a weekly pay check for an individual who earns $7.25 an hour, the minimum wage for a full-time job. Defendants who are found guilty must pay a fine or face a suspended driver’s license or jail time.

According to court data obtained by NNS…the Milwaukee Police Department writes a disproportionate number of citations in some of the city’s poorest areas. Although only 12 percent of Milwaukee residents live in two of the city’s poorest ZIP codes…people in those ZIP codes received 17 percent of the 430,000 tickets written from 2011 to 2014.

The disparity in citations by income is also illustrated by comparing the number of tickets written in the 53206 ZIP code, where half the residents live in poverty, to the number written in the 53215 ZIP code, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood where about a third of residents live in poverty, the same as the citywide average. Police wrote about one ticket for every four people in 53206 compared to one ticket for every 11 people in 53215 in 2014.

A typical day at the Milwaukee Municipal Court…begins when dozens of defendants…travel up to the courtrooms. Once on the second floor, they file through a security checkpoint, where they place their metal items into a plastic bin and walk through a metal detector…

Moments later those assembled in the Branch 2 courtroom rise to their feet as Judge Derek Mosley strolls in and takes his seat in front and high above the court. For several hours, he and two other judges work their way through a long docket of cases, hearing the constant drumbeat of financial despair on the part of many defendants.

“I get it. I get it,” Mosley said, back in his chamber… “It starts with jobs. The problem we have is that the individuals getting cited probably wouldn’t be getting cited if they had employment… and were stakeholders in the community…”

With this in mind, judges try to incentivize employment by waiving fines for defendants who come back to court with proof that they got a job or enrolled in school.

“The court is not going to get any money, but who cares?” Mosley said. “It reduces recidivism because (employed defendants) don’t come back. I have no control over bringing businesses to Milwaukee…but I can try to get people to jobs to better themselves.”

Some violations directly involve victims…while others are victimless crimes… Mosley said he tries to strike a fine balance between fairness for poor defendants and justice for victims, many of whom are also poor and minority.

“When I get an assault and battery from the 53206 ZIP code, the defendant and the victim look exactly the same,” Mosley said. “I look at the back of the ticket and look at the victim (many of whom) are black or Mexican and poor. It’s hard for me to tell the victim of an assault and battery that (the defendant) lives in the 06 zip code and I have to help them out.”

Even if defendants do not plan to fight their cases, Mosley implores them to come to court, where they can make arrangements to pay their obligations and where he can reduce fines and demerit points…

He said, however, that defendants typically fear the court system and believe that if they show up, they will be taken into custody if they have a municipal warrant against them.

“We have a policy in municipal court that if you walk in, you will walk out,” Mosley said, noting that judges will lift all warrants against individuals if they pay $20 toward their fines, regardless of how much they owe…

Police and local lawmakers have begun to address some of the city’s citation practices for minor, nonviolent infractions. Police officials have said they’ve made a concerted effort not to ticket for minor traffic offenses over the last few years, decreasing the overall number of tickets written by 46 percent from 2011 to 2014. In addition, the Milwaukee Common Council significantly slashed the fine for possessing a small amount of marijuana.

“One of the issues that continues to come up is the injustice many people feel who live in communities that are overly policed and where ordinances and laws are stringently enforced,” said Ald. Ashanti Hamilton… “We have pretty much criminalized where you live and what you look like.”

The intersection between race, poverty and the local judicial system has been a concern of the Justice Initiatives Institute…which recently published a report examining defendants who were jailed after they failed to appear in court and pay their fines.

The report examined the economic and demographic characteristics of defendants processed through a courtroom in the county jail separate from the main court facility in the Milwaukee Police Department, from 2008 to 2013. It studied 26,000 defendants, most of whom were arrested on a municipal warrant after not paying a citation and spending two or three days in jail on each occasion, earning time served, which reduces the amount of money owed for a fine.

The study found about 85 percent never paid anything on their citations; about two-thirds of those jailed did not have a job. Of those who were employed, 40 percent worked low-paying jobs. Black men had seven times as many cases associated with citations as white men.

“The trends in the unemployment rates in Milwaukee mirrored the trends in how people were appearing in our study. When the unemployment rates went up, the number of people in our study…was going up. So it’s linked to poverty,” said Marilyn Walczak…

According to court officials, the city’s jailing policy changed in May 2012. Before the change, defendants for the most part were eligible to be released on a recognizance bond when the first warrant was issued for not paying their fines. When subsequent warrants were issued, they were held until they paid a cash bond. Now defendants are eligible for a signature bond the first three times they are taken into custody on a warrant for not paying their fines…

The city spent more than $10 million to jail the 26,000 defendants for not paying about $5.7 million they owed from 2008 to 2013…

The court itself earns a profit each year, according to a cost-benefit document drafted by the city’s budget office in November 2014. The document showed that the court earned a net of between $1.5 and $2.8 million each year from 2009 to 2013, although that does not take into account several direct and indirect costs such as expenses associated with paying for collections, bailiffs and city attorneys.

“Our revenue goes into the city’s general fund,” Islo said, noting that the money from citations helps fund city departments that do not generate revenue on their own.

The city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee recently passed a resolution asking for the State of Wisconsin to allow the city to apply a surcharge on each municipal fine. The funds would pay to store data from police-worn body cameras, which officials expect to cost $1.7 million.

“The people you are taking the money from… very often do not have the financial resources to pay their fines,” said Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin

State law allows for defendants to apply for an indigence determination and makes available community service and alternative sanctions rather than monetary penalties to those who cannot pay.

But very few defendants take advantage of these alternatives. In the impoverished 53206 ZIP code, only 723 defendants who received 41,900 citations from 2011 to 2014 were offered and agreed to alternative sanctions…

“I have seen instances in Milwaukee where people are not advised and…no effort is made to communicate with them about their ability to pay or alternatives [available] to them if they can’t pay,” said James Gramling, a former Milwaukee Municipal Court judge…

Another sign that defendants do not know their rights is that only 994 of 434,463 citations written were adjudicated in a court trial from 2011 to 2014. Part of the reason for this may be the wording on the citation itself…

The citation doesn’t make it clear that defendants have the right to appear to contest the charge against them, added Walczak…

“When you are first given a ticket, it says that you don’t have to appear,” she said. “But what that means is that if you want to admit you’re wrong and pay the ticket, you don’t have to appear and you can just send your money in. But I don’t think people understand that.”

Walczak also blames the fact that there is no online form designated solely for defendants who want to apply for an indigence determination. There is a form to apply to make installment payments. In addition, an informational pamphlet available in court makes no mention of alternative sanctions for people who are indigent, although a third of the city’s residents live in poverty.

Court officials “don’t take time to fairly and aggressively determine ability to pay. They put the burden of that on the defendant,” she said. “If the (defendant) doesn’t bring it up in court, they don’t bring it up.”

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Racism Between the Goal Posts

By Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard

“Black people aren’t allowed to make mistakes,” Prince declared last year, in a statement that spoke for many. Screw up once, the thinking goes, and you’re out, having confirmed the view of many whites that you didn’t deserve a shot in the first place.

Washington Redskins quarterbacks Robert Griffin III (L) and Kirk Cousins.

Washington Redskins quarterbacks Robert Griffin III (L) and Kirk Cousins.

New research provides evidence of that destructive dynamic on one of America’s largest stages: the National Football League.

A new study concludes that black NFL quarterbacks are roughly twice as likely to be benched the following week than their white colleagues.*

After taking a series of variables into account (including age, experience, and injury), Assumption College economist Brian Volz found a pattern of player replacement that suggests systematic racial discrimination. He also reports that, in terms of on-field performance, teams pay a price for this behavior.

Writing in the Journal of Sports Economics, Volz begins by noting that, over the last 13 seasons, the percentage of African-American starting quarterbacks ranged from 16 to 28 percent—startlingly low numbers, considering that about two-thirds of NFL players are black.

To determine whether this reflects racial discrimination, he analyzed data from 2001 to 2009, looking specifically at quarterbacks who started the first game of the season. (He reasoned that those whose first game as a starter come later in the season may simply be replacing an injured or otherwise indisposed player.)

He then took into account a number of non-racial factors that could influence a quarterback being benched, including his age, experience, and performance; the quality of the second-string quarterback who replaced him; and of course any injuries he had sustained. In addition, he looked at the percentage of black residents in a team’s metropolitan area, to see if the racial make-up of the fan base had an impact on the decision.

Volz found that, once all the variables were factored in, “black starting quarterbacks are 1.98 to 2.46 times more likely to be benched the next week” than white quarterbacks with approximately equivalent skills. “This implies that black quarterbacks may face some level of discrimination in the NFL,” he writes…

The results suggest some whites feel a degree of discomfort seeing an African American in an on-field leadership role, and this puts pressure on black quarterbacks to produce quickly or be replaced. Whether the coaches and team owners are responding in a personally racist way, or believe they are reflecting the perceived preferences of the fans, is not clear. But either is equally indefensible.

Given the fact professional football is dealing with a lot of problems at the moment, one hesitates to pile on. But this pernicious pattern needs to be examined, and the discrimination it reveals should be ruled out of bounds.

Read the full article here.

Read more Breaking News here.