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When the past is present…

“…The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin


‘Black Girls Vote’ looks to get young women to polls

By Yvonne Wenger and Mary Carole McCauley, the Baltimore Sun

Danyell Smith wasn’t shy about walking up to total strangers at the Security Square Mall over the New Year’s holiday weekend and asking them, “Baby, are you registered to vote?”

Mykidra "Nyki" RObinson shares a high five with supporter Tiffany Simpson.

Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson shares a high five with supporter Tiffany Simpson.

Though Smith is a volunteer with a group called Black Girls Vote, neither she nor her organization aims to sign up only those people with two X chromosomes. They’re eager to enlist anyone and everyone eligible to cast a ballot — males and females, teenagers and senior citizens, African-Americans and Caucasians.

That’s how 18-year-old Omarion Costello of Catonsville found himself holding a clipboard and filling out a registration form while Smith helped him navigate the unexpected pitfalls of the election process…

It’s that kind of respectful but assertive approach that demonstrates why the group can sign up as many as a hundred new voters at individual pop-up events. On a recent morning, it didn’t take Smith long to persuade Costello to go one step further and volunteer to work as an election judge…

Black Girls Vote was founded by Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson after a man was shot and killed over the summer in Hanlon Park, not far from her home. Registering people to vote — especially young African-American women — is part of the 33-year-old’s plans to help change her Northwest Baltimore neighborhood and others. She wants to use the nonprofit to improve public schools, the job market and access to health care.

“It’s a new year. It’s time for new things. We can’t sit back and make excuses,” Robinson said. “Our vote is our voice. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a GED, or if you have a PhD, we’re all the same.”

The nonpartisan group is planning “pop up events,” like the one Friday, at hair salons, nail parlors, restaurants and big box stores.n_robinson

The group is made up of about 15 core members, all but one of them women. Robinson said. Their hope is that registering a voter will be the start of a relationship. They plan to stay in touch with the people they sign up, and find creative ways to remove barriers that could prevent them from going to the polls for the April primary or November election…

While the State Board of Elections did not have a racial breakdown on registered voters in the city, data show 56 percent are women. Of the women registered, 9 percent are between the ages of 18 and 24…

A first generation college graduate, Robinson earned a degree in business marketing from Frostburg University. She grew up in an apolitical home in Randallstown, the daughter of a mail carrier and laborer.

She said she had long considered how best to make a difference in her community after buying a house in the Hanlon-Longwood neighborhood about eight years ago. She registered the domain name in May, but she said it was the 24-year-old man’s killing in August that prompted her to act…

“It’s economics,” she said. “Who am I to judge? Desperate times call for desperate measures.”bgv

The group will focus on the Baltimore area for the 2016 election with hopes of expanding. Robinson said they are seeking community feedback to develop an agenda. Next, they’ll dissect the platforms of various candidates to see how they align…

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America’s Self-Destructive Whites

By Fareed Zakaria, the Washington Post

Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the

AngryWhiteMAnRepublican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse.

For decades, people in rich countries have lived longer. But in a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. There are concerns about the calculations, but even a leading critic of the paper has acknowledged that, however measured, “the change compared to other countries and groups is huge.”
The main causes of death are as striking as the fact itself: suicide, alcoholism, and overdoses of prescription and illegal drugs. “People seem to be killing themselves, slowly or quickly,” Deaton told me. These circumstances are usually caused by stress, depression and despair. The only comparable spike in deaths in an industrialized country took place among Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rates of alcoholism skyrocketed.

Deaton speculated to me that perhaps Europe’s more generous welfare state might ease some of the fears associated with the rapid change. Certainly he believes that in the United States, doctors and drug companies are far too eager to deal with physical and psychological pain by prescribing drugs, including powerful and addictive opioids. The introduction of drugs such as Oxycontin, a heroin-like prescription painkiller, coincides with the rise in deaths.

But why don’t we see the trend among other American ethnic groups? While mortality rates for middle-age whites have stayed flat or risen, the rates for Hispanics and blacks have continued to decline significantly. These groups live in the same country and face greater economic pressures than whites. Why are they not in similar despair?

The answer might lie in expectations. Princeton anthropologist Carolyn Rouse suggested, in an email exchange, that other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead. In fact, Rouse said that after hundreds of years of slavery, segregation and racism, blacks have developed ways to cope with disappointment and the unfairness of life: through family, art, protest speech and, above all, religion…

The Hispanic and immigrant experiences in the United States are different, of course. But again, few in these groups have believed that their place in society is assured. Minorities, by definition, are on the margins. They do not assume that the system is set up for them. They try hard and hope to succeed, but they do not expect it as the norm.trump_campaign

The United States is going through a great power shift. Working-class whites don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, certainly compared with blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and most immigrants. They were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. Donald Trump has promised that he will change this and make them win again. But he can’t. No one can. And deep down, they know it.

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More Police Officers Facing Charges, But Few See Jail

By Shaila Dewan and Timothy Williams, the New York Times

What was once a rarity has now become increasingly common: police officers facing criminal charges in the deaths of civilians. In Albuquerque, two officers will stand trial in the death of a homeless man. In Cincinnati, a campus police officer has been charged in the fatal shooting of a man during a traffic stop. In Chicago, where a video captured the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of the police, an officer was charged with murder.

Demonstrators in Cleveland on Tuesday, after a grand jury declined to indict police officers responsible for the shooting of Tamir Rice.

Demonstrators in Cleveland on Tuesday, after a grand jury declined to indict police officers responsible for the shooting of Tamir Rice.

But even as high-profile police shootings have attracted more scrutiny over the past year, one thing remains clear: The law gives the police the benefit of the doubt.

That was the case on Monday, when a grand jury declined to indict two Cleveland police officers in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

The local prosecutor said the shooting of the boy as he played with a toy gun in a park was tragic but not criminal…

Though the Rice family and others criticized the report as biased toward law enforcement, many experts agreed that the law was on his side when he recommended against indictment.

And even as the number of police officers facing charges has notably risen, driven by video evidence and a national debate over law enforcement tactics, convictions have proved as elusive as ever…

Such legal realities leave a wide gap between an unnecessary police shooting and a criminal one, a gap that, barring a new Supreme Court ruling on police use of force, must be filled by better policies, training, accountability and supervision, experts say.

“These are important policy discussions that need to be addressed,” said Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a former police officer. “We have a problem with police subculture. We have a problem with poor training, lack of training. Many police departments have cut in-service training because of budget cuts. Many departments used to send everybody every month, but now they don’t have the money to do that.”

Despite heavy sanctions, like millions paid out in settlements over police mistakes, police departments have resisted change, Mr. Stinson said. “But it’s gotten to the point now where people of all walks of life are paying attention. We’ve gotten to a tipping point.”

William Johnson, the executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, had a broader view of how to bridge the gap.

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations

“The anger on the part of protesters is misguided if it’s focused on the grand jury,” he said. “If they want change, what they need to look at is training, on the part of officers, but also training on the part of the community to understand how the criminal justice system does work. And also in, I don’t know how to put it, but common sense on the part of the public.”…

This year, 18 police officers were charged in fatal on-duty shootings, compared with an average of fewer than five a year over the preceding decade, according to Mr. Stinson’s research. That does not include the six officers indicted in the nonshooting death of Mr. Gray. Of the 18, 11 of the cases involved some sort of video evidence, Mr. Stinson said, adding, “In some of these cases, I don’t think the officers would have been charged without it.”…

Even with indictments, juries will remain reluctant to convict police officers absent evidence of malice, said Eugene O’Donnell, a former officer and prosecutor who now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “Tremendous incompetence, the worst kind of training, disregard for people is really not enough,” he said. “You’re going to have to go beyond that because the police are different.”

Some jurors in police cases have later made a distinction between determining whether the officer should have fired and deciding — as the law instructs — whether the officer could reasonably have feared bodily harm.

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Grand Jury Could Still Snare Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland

By Michael McLoughlin, the Huffington Post

​A Texas grand jury next month may consider whether the state trooper who threatened Sandra Bland with a stun gun during a routine traffic stop last July should face charges related to the incident.sandra_bland

After the same grand jury chose this week not to indict any officials from the sheriff’s department or county jail where Bland died, her family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert, called on federal prosecutors Tuesday to seek charges against the trooper.

The special prosecutor handling the case said that trooper Brian Encinia’s conduct during the violent altercation could be the focus of the grand jury when it meets again next month. Encinia, who is white, was filmed on his patrol car’s dashcam threatening Bland, an African American, with a stun gun during her arrest on July 10.

Bland’s family and supporters called Tuesday for federal charges against Encinia. A lawyer for Bland’s family told The New York Times that federal prosecutors should launch a case against Encinia because he used excessive force and had no reason to arrest Bland in the first place. Lambert told the Associated Press he plans to file a motion to force Texas authorities to hand over a report by the Texas Rangers into Bland’s death…

Bland was found dead on July 13 in her cell after her arrest. A medical examiner ruled the 28-year-old’s death a suicide, and grand jurors announced Monday that no law enforcement officials had committed a crime while Bland was in custody.

Bland’s family has maintained that they do not believe her death was a suicide, and filed a federal lawsuit in August over Bland’s arrest and incarceration.

The 52-minute video of Bland’s arrest was a major factor in making her story one of the biggest law enforcement scandals in a year filled with policing controversies…

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Cops kicked me so hard I lost a testicle

By Tina Moore, the New York Post

A Brooklyn man claims he was kicked in the testicles so hard by NYPD cops that he had to have one of them surgically removed.Corey_green

Corey Green, 32, was in a Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment playing cards with friends Saturday when cops busted in looking for a robbery suspect, said his dad, John Green, 52.

Cops took everyone downstairs so that the victim could try to identify the robber from the back of a police cruiser. As they asked the men to provide identification, Corey, a father of two, began walking away, his dad admitted.

Police threw Green to the ground “and were kicking his genitals,” the elder Green said.

His son, who had a warrant for drunken driving, had emergency surgery.

“They removed one of his testicles,” the dad said. “They stomped his testicles into his stomach.”

A police spokesman said Green collided with a scaffold as he eluded cops.

Internal Affairs is investigating.

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John Boyega Braces for Galactic Fame

By David Itzkoff, the New York Times


Were they specifically looking for a nonwhite actor to play Finn?boyega_2

Everybody was being seen for all these roles. I would have been suspicious if it was only black people going in for Finn. I would have thought, “Oh, maybe there’s an active agenda there.” It looked like they were just trying to look for the best actors for the parts. But I put some friends on [audition] tape for Finn and Rey, early on, before I was ever called in.

Knowing that they were seeing these other actors, did you feel you were in competition against them?

I was up against myself most of the time, because I was so insecure about certain things. What your life could be is dangled right in front of you. And the other talented actors who are going up for these parts, too, are also going through that. That becomes a fixation.


When some people criticized the “Star Wars” trailer — even threatened to boycott the movie — because it showed a black actor in a stormtrooper uniform, how did that make you feel?

It made me feel fine. I’m grounded in who I am, and I am a confident black man. A confident, Nigerian, black, chocolate man. I’m proud of my heritage, and no man can take that away from me. I wasn’t raised to fear people with a difference of opinion. They are merely victims of a disease in their mind. To get into a serious dialogue with people who judge a person based on the melanin in their skin? They’re stupid, and I’m not going to lose sleep over people. The presale tickets have gone through the roof — their agenda has failed. Miserably.

You didn’t feel the urge to respond to these critics?

I just don’t get it. You guys got every single alien in this movie imaginable to man. With tentacles, five eyes. Aliens that, if they existed, we’d definitely have an issue. We’d have to get them to the government and be, like, “What are you?” Yet what you want to do is fixate on another human being’s color. You need to go back to school and unlearn what you have learned. I think Yoda said that, or Obi-Wan.

To this point, the “Star Wars” movies have featured few black characters. Are you proud that you’re helping to add diversity to the franchise?

Boyega in character as former stormtrooper Finn

Boyega in character as former stormtrooper Finn.

I don’t know whether I’m proud or anything. I’m happy that we’re able to mesh together in this ensemble cast and create a wonderful story. It’s Hollywood’s fault, for letting this get so far, that when a black person or a female, or someone from a different cultural group is cast in a movie, we have to have debates as to whether they’re placed there just to meet a [quota]. I also understand, on the flip side, where these other mentalities will arise. “He’s just placed there for political correctness.” I don’t hear you guys saying that when Brad Pitt is there. When Tom Cruise is there. Hell, when Shia LaBeouf is there, you guys ain’t saying that. That is just blatant racism.

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‘We Need a Conviction’: Baltimore Reacts to Mistrial in Freddie Gray Case

By Erica Blount Danois,

“Indict! Convict! Send those killer cops to jail! The whole damn system is guilty as hell,” is what protesters shouted outside the courthouse in Baltimore Wednesday after the trial of Police Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury. Porter, the first of six officers facing prosecution in the police-custody death of Freddie Gray, had his trial declared a mistrial by Judge Barry Williams when the jury came back deadlocked.

baltimore_reduxThe protesters’ shouts nearly drowned out the whirring of helicopters overhead and the commands from sheriff’s deputies lined up in formation across from them.

“We’re not happy today with what happened,” said protester Westley West. “It’s not what we need; we need a conviction.”…

The crowd of protesters was a small, peaceful group that gathered outside the courthouse after Judge Williams announced that a jury made up of five whites and seven blacks that deliberated for approximately 16 hours could not come to a unanimous decision.

Experts agreed that this was a loss for the prosecution and that it faces an uphill battle in the upcoming trials of the five remaining officers as well as the potential retrial of Porter’s case. The intention was to convict Porter, grant him immunity and then use his statements against other defendants…

One expert, Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who has been in the courtroom every day since the trial began, felt that the bigger picture conclusion is that Baltimore has already set a precedent in a nationwide battle against police brutality.

“The important thing here is transparency,” said Colbert. “This is one of the rare prosecutions of a police officer throughout the whole country. There is progress that has been made here in terms of the public knowing what happened.”…

Porter remains suspended without pay, according to Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

“Freddie did not die in vain,” said protester Kwame Rose before he was arrested. “Freddie Gray lives in all of us. We are fighting for more than Freddie Gray; we are fighting for our lives and we are fighting for people that look like Freddie Gray. For Tyrone Davis, Anthony Anderson, Tamir Rice, Keith Davis.”

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Sam’s Club CEO’s Call For Diversity Provokes Angry Reaction

By Emily Peck, the Huffington Post

The chief executive of Sam’s Club is actually being criticized this week for articulating a commonsense and fairly popular view: We need more diversity — more women and more people of color — at the top in corporate America.

Sam's Club CEO Rosalind Brewer

Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer

“It has to start with top leadership,” Rosalind Brewer, Sam’s Club CEO, told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Dec. 11 after being asked about her unique position as a black chief executive.

“My executive team is very diverse and I make that a priority. I demand it within my team,” Brewer said, adding that she likewise encourages the company’s suppliers to have diverse teams. Recently Brewer met with a team of executives from another firm — all of them white, all of them men. She told Harlow she plans to give them a call about that.

t’s pretty hard to find women or black people at the top in corporate America. There are just 21 female CEOs in the S&P 500 — that’s 4.2 percent overall. The stats on black executives are worse: There are only five black CEOs in the S&P 500, accounting for a grand total of 1 percent. For comparison’s sake, black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, four of the nine people on Brewer’s leadership team are white men (and there’s a white woman in there as well). That means the team is 44 percent people of color, counting Brewer herself… it’s clear that white people aren’t exactly being shut out of the highest ranks of Sam’s Club…

This isn’t just a fairness issue (although really, the fairness issue should be enough). Since retailers are selling to a diverse group of consumers, it’s important for their bottom lines that they understand how to appeal to different kinds of people…

There were predictable shrieks of alarm from social media. People actually said they’d never shop at “racist” Sam’s Club again. They lobbed absurd charges of “reverse racism” at Brewer.

To be clear, “reverse racism” isn’t a thing, as The Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay explained in this piece over the summer. Racism is an institutional, systemic phenomenon that puts an entire group of people at an advantage or disadvantage simply because of who they are. The key idea here is that it’s pervasive. It’s the kind of thing that becomes apparent when you zoom out and look at statistics — statistics like “1 percent of CEOs in the S&P 500 are black.”…

Meme created for #BoycottRacistSamsClub

Meme created for #BoycottRacistSamsClub

The absurd backlash of white people calling Brewer “anti-white” was so fast and furious that the chief executive of Walmart, the parent company of Sam’s Club, had to speak out in Brewer’s defense.

“Roz was simply trying to reiterate that we believe diverse and inclusive teams make for a stronger business,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement Monday. “That’s all there is to it and I support that important ideal.”…

Some outraged shoppers said they’d take their business to Costco, but we have bad news: Costco, known for being a progressive company that treats its workers very well, has also been fairly outspoken about the need for diversity. (This is actually good news, at least for any reasonable definition of “good.”)…

Sorry, guys. “Diversity” isn’t going away.

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Supreme Court Justice Scalia Is Wrong About Affirmative Action

By Emily DeRuy, the National Journal

Supreme Court Justice Ant­on­in Scalia’s seem­ing sug­ges­tion last week that stu­dents of col­or would be bet­ter off at “a slower-track school where they do well” is not only of­fens­ive, it’s wrong.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Black and Latino stu­dents who at­tend se­lect­ive schools are more likely to gradu­ate than those who at­tend open-en­roll­ment schools, re­gard­less of how aca­dem­ic­ally pre­pared they are when they enter.

Ac­cord­ing to the Geor­getown Uni­versity Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion and the Work­force, gradu­ation rates for black and Latino stu­dents double when they move to se­lect­ive schools from open-ac­cess col­leges.

“Justice Scalia is mak­ing the tired ar­gu­ment that ad­mit­ting Afric­an-Amer­ic­an stu­dents in­to white schools is akin to put­ting ponies in a horse race,” said Nicole Smith, the Geor­getown Cen­ter’s chief eco­nom­ist, in a state­ment. “Like so many, Justice Scalia mis­takes Afric­an Amer­ic­an as a proxy for low read­i­ness, when in fact minor­ity stu­dents in more se­lect­ive col­leges and uni­versit­ies not only gradu­ate at re­l­at­ively high­er rates, but also se­cure high-pay­ing jobs there­after.”

Scalia’s com­ments came as the Su­preme Court heard ar­gu­ments in an af­firm­at­ive-ac­tion case that could have wide-ran­ging im­plic­a­tions. The Uni­versity of Texas, the de­fend­ant in the case, says its use of race has helped en­sure di­versity. The school also uses a “10 per­cent plan,” in which any stu­dent who gradu­ates in the top 10 per­cent of a pub­lic high school in Texas is gran­ted ad­mis­sion to the Uni­versity of Texas. Since many of the state’s high schools are largely se­greg­ated, the policy in­creased the num­ber of stu­dents of col­or at the uni­versity…

“If Scalia’s the­ory were true, equally pre­pared stu­dents of all races would do worse at more se­lect­ive col­leges,” said An­thony Carne­vale, the Geor­getown Cen­ter’s dir­ect­or, in a state­ment. “In fact, we find the op­pos­ite is true.”

Af­firm­at­ive ac­tion, the data sug­gests, not only be­ne­fits schools by help­ing them in­crease the num­ber of stu­dents of col­or, it of­fers those stu­dents a bet­ter chance at a col­lege de­gree.

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Being Black And Loud Is Necessary, One Poet Demands

“This can’t be the land of the free and home of the brave only for some.”

By Taryn Finley, The Huffington Post

Black voices should never be silenced. This was April Wells’ message in her poem “Loud Voices,” which she performed at the Get Lit Classic Slam in Southern California. The teen shunned the notion that black people are better off biting their tongues than addressing injustices.

“I didn’t understand why silence was in my blood but just because my ancestors couldn’t say anything didn’t mean I wouldn’t speak up for myself,” the teen said, referencing black slaves.  “They say black people are meant to be loud and that’s OK because I have something to say; this voice has the ability to move mountains.”

Wells urges her audience that it’s time to speak up, mentioning Eric Garner, Michael Brown and other black people who’ve been killed by racial injustice in America. She offers using your voice as a solution.

“There is no excuse to take away one more voice,” she said. “This can’t be the land of the free and home of the brave only for some.”

Read the full article here. 

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