Breaking News

When the past is present…

 

U.S. to Release 6,000 Inmates From Prisons

By Michael S. Schmidt, the New York Times

The Justice Department is preparing to release roughly 6,000 inmates from federal prisons starting at the end of this month as part of an effort to ease overcrowding and roll back the harsh penalties given to nonviolent drug dealers in the 1980s and ’90s, according to federal law enforcement officials.

A cell at the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma.

A cell at the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma.

About a third of the inmates are undocumented immigrants who will be deported…

The release will be one of the largest discharges of inmates from federal prisons in American history. It coincides with an intensifying bipartisan effort to ease the mass incarcerations that followed decades of tough sentencing for drug offenses — like dealing crack cocaine — which have taken a particularly harsh toll on minority communities.

“Today’s announcement is nothing short of thrilling because it carries justice,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, a senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Far too many people have lost years of their lives to draconian sentencing laws born of the failed drug war. People of color have had to bear the brunt of these misguided and cruel policies. We are overjoyed that some of the people so wronged will get their freedom back.”

While news of the early releases was widely praised, it raised some concerns among law enforcement officials across the country who are grappling with an increase in homicides. Their fear is that many of the freed convicts will be unable to get jobs and will return to crime…

In April 2014, the United States Sentencing Commission reduced the penalties for many nonviolent drug crimes. That summer it said those guidelines could be applied retroactively to many prisoners serving long drug sentences. Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general at the time, had lobbied the sentencing commission to make the changes.

Under the new guidelines, prisoners can ask federal judges to reassess their sentences. Along with examining the inmates’ behavior in prison, the judges look at whether they are likely to act out violently if they are released.

As part of an effort to give the federal Bureau of Prisons time to prepare for an influx of convicts entering probation and re-entry programs, the releases were delayed. They will now take place from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2…

The United States has a quarter of the world’s prison population, and Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree that prison spending, which accounts for a third of the Justice Department’s budget, needs to be reduced…

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New California Law Aims To Curb Racial Profiling

Activists hailed the law, but police union leaders complained it would create more paperwork.

By The Huffington Post

California police will have to publicly report race and other demographic characteristics of any person stopped by officers under a new law intended to respond to high-profile deaths of unarmed black men and charges of racial profiling.

Activists march silently to protest racial profiling. (Photo by Annette Bernhardt)

Activists march silently to protest racial profiling. (Photo by Annette Bernhardt)

The law… expands the state’s formerly vague definition of racial profiling to include “identity profiling” based on gender, national origin or other characteristics protected against discrimination. The law requires law enforcement agencies to record the racial and identity characteristics of any person stopped or detained…

A recent string of deaths at the hands of police officers — from Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, to Freddie Gray in Baltimore, to Eric Garner in New York — sparked unrest and national outcry about the need for police reform, especially in communities of color. Police unions blasted the new law as unnecessary, while reform activists hailed it as a critical tool to analyze police practices.

Lt. Steve James, president of the Long Beach Officers Association and the national trustee for the California Fraternal Order of Police…said the new legislation is “terrible.” He said it would create more paperwork for officers, taking away time on the streets, and seeks to solve a problem he doesn’t believe exists…

Data that the state attorney general already has access to reveals racial disparity in arrests and jailing across the state.  Seventeen percent of arrests and about 25 percent of deaths in custody involve blacks. Young black males are about 25 percent more likely than whites to be jailed in the state…

Protestors march to send the 'stop and frisk' procedure in New York City. (Photo by Seth Wenig)

Protestors march to send the ‘stop and frisk’ procedure in New York City. (Photo by Seth Wenig)

“They’re of course exaggerating about the amount of paperwork that this will produce,” Abdullah said. “But if that were a real consideration for them, then maybe they should only make stops that are really around keeping the community safe rather than then the harassment and intimidation of people of color…”

“For police to say that profiling doesn’t happen so we don’t even need to collect information about it is offensive,” Bibring said. “We give police tremendous authority to stop people, to search them, to use force and potentially to shoot people. And in order to make sure that authority is being used correctly, we need transparency into what they are doing…”

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Racist Jokes About This Photo Got People Fired and Sparked the Hashtag #HisNameIsCayden

By Dian Ozemebhoya Eromosele, The Root

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There is a man who goes by the name of Geris Hilton on Facebook (reportedly not his real name) who used to have a job.

“Hilton” used to work at Polaris Marketing Group, according to AtlantaBlackStar, but his employment status changed after he posted a photo on Facebook Sept. 16.

In the photo, Hilton was taking a selfie at work, alongside a little cute black boy who is the son of one of his now-former co-workers—a dandy woman by the name of Sydney.

All was seemingly fine, until Hilton and his friends started making racist jokes about the photo in the comments section on Facebook, insinuating that the little boy, whose name is Cayden, was a slave, and Hilton the slave master.

The photo has made its way around the Internet. As you guessed it, pink slips are flying and heads are rolling because of the racist shenanigans afoot in the photo’s comments section.

“I didn’t know you were a slave owner,” a poster by the name of Emily Irene Red reportedly said. According to the tweet below, she has since been fired. Casualty No. 1…

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The president of Polaris Marketing Group posted a note on Facebook announcing that an employee—the man behind the Hilton Facebook profile, according to AtlantaBlackStar—had been terminated and denouncing the disgusting comments he and his friends made about the little boy…

Sydney Jade, Cayden’s mother, got on social media to thank all of the people who spread the news about the inappropriate photo. She created the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden to make the statement that her little boy is a person and shouldn’t be objectified or trivialized as the butt of a racist joke…

This’ll teach people to keep their lack of home training to themselves and not bring it out into the public sphere.

 

 

 

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Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Reflects On The Origins Of The Movement

From Oscar Grant to Trayvon Martin to Ferguson, the movement has steadily grown in prominence over the past two years.

By , The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — In July 2013, Opal Tometi walked out of a New York movie theater. She had just finished watching Fruitvale Station, a film documenting the lead-up to Oscar Grant’s death at the hands of a police officer in 2009. …

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14: (L-R) Black Lives Matter Co-Founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi at the The New York Women's Foundation. May 2015. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The New York Women's Foundation)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 14: (L-R) Black Lives Matter Co-Founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi at the The New York Women’s Foundation. May 2015. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The New York Women’s Foundation)

That is when she discovered that George Zimmerman, who had been charged in the murder of 18-year-old Trayvon Martin, had been acquitted. “I remember sitting on the street corner and getting a slew of text messages, tweets [from] folks who were frantic,” Tometi, who went on to co-found Black Lives Matter, said Wednesday…. 

“I remember in that moment, just sitting with the fact that everybody knew what took place,” Tometi continued. “And despite all the knowledge, despite the testimonies, despite all of that, Trayvon Martin was put on trial for his own death … I was struck with the fact that my younger brother — who was 14 at the time — could have been Trayvon.”

After hearing the news, Tometi was inspired to build a movement to prevent this from happening again. She read a Facebook post by Alicia Garza arguing that the anger people felt was justified and that “black lives matter.” Inspired by Garza’s post, Patrisse Cullors put a hashtag on that crucial phrase and began posting it on social media….

“Beyond just our walls, we need this to actually be very public,” Tometi recalled telling the other two, who would become her co-founders. “We need to have other people interact with this message and also share the work that they’re doing to ensure black lives matter. And how can we, as a collective … make sure that we are coordinated and uplifting a message that will ensure that all of our black lives would matter?”

Using a controversial tactic , the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted the speech of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in August 2015. (Photo: Alex Garland)

Using a controversial tactic , the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted the speech of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in August 2015. (Photo: Alex Garland)

“We created #BlackLivesMatter. We created a platform,” she continued. “We used our social media presence online in order to forward a conversation about what is taking place in black communities … This was actually a racial justice project for black people.”

The movement gained significant traction after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. …Asked about the group’s goals, philosophies and tactics — mainly activists disrupting speeches by presidential hopefuls — Tometi said Black Lives Matter is open to a variety of strategies for addressing systemic racism, and doesn’t claim that one tactic is more effective than another.

“You have a duty in this moment in history to take action and stand on the side of people who have been oppressed for generations … Whatever means you need to take, we believe that folks should do that,” she said…Tometi also addressed the allegation that Black Lives Matter is provoking violence. …“When we say black lives matter, we’re not saying that any other life doesn’t matter.

 

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Is This the End of the 2nd Reconstruction?

By Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Root

People take part in a rally on April 29, 2015, at Union Square in New York City, held in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore demanding justice for Freddie Gray, who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody. (Photo by EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

People take part in a rally on April 29, 2015, at Union Square in New York City, held in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore demanding justice for Freddie Gray, who died of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody.
(Photo by EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

This has been a bruising time for the African-American community—as bruising as any in recent memory. The tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight victims in Charleston, S.C.—as well as others too numerous to name, but whose lives and sacrifices matter no less—shocked us all. Legions of young activists have taken to marching, tweeting, advocating and protesting in order, simply, to save lives that matter so deeply. As were so many who came before, they have been called to action by the grueling inequalities that seem to grow more vivid every day, despite the significant and stunning advances that we as a people have experienced—inequalities in education, wealth, justice, health, political representation and the safety of day-to-day living.

My concern is that the end of the Second Reconstruction is upon us now, or that there are too many in power who are trying to achieve that pernicious end. W.E.B. Du Bois said of the beginning and end of the first Reconstruction, “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery. The whole weight of America was thrown to color caste. The colored world went down. … A new slavery arose.”

Following the first Reconstruction—that decade after the Civil War in which the Union was to become whole again, the slave was to become free and property was to become citizen—the economic relation of slave to master was essentially reconstituted through sharecropping and disenfranchisement mounted mischievously in fits and starts, and then confirmed and maintained as the law of the land…

The legacy of the ending of Reconstruction, the redemption of the Confederacy, was a debilitating blow to the status of the newly freed slaves and their descendants: sharecropping, convict lease (both actually forms of neo-slavery), Jim Crow and lynch laws, poll taxes and literacy tests, and the scandalous sanctioning of separate but equal as the law of the land by the U.S. Supreme Court. These are just some of the items in the catalog of horrors that kept the majority of black people systematically separate and decidedly unequal throughout the first half of the 20th century…

 

 

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Former officer files suit claiming discrimination in arrest by fellow officers

By Katie Mulvaney, the Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A former Providence police officer is accusing fellow officers and the state police of assaulting him and his son and violating their rights by placing them under arrest due to the color of their skin during a violent encounter in 2012.

Christopher Owens, who served on the force for 10-plus years, and his son Tyler are seeking $1 million in a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court.

Christopher Owens, serving as a school resource officer in 2008.

Christopher Owens, serving as a school resource officer in 2008.

According to the lawsuit, Christopher and Tyler Owens, who are African American, were doing yard work on Sept. 19, 2012, when they heard sirens and saw a tow truck driven by Sean Sparfven hit a car on their street. At the time, Sparfven was fleeing the police who suspected him of dealing in stolen vehicles, and he had led officers on a high-speed chase from North Providence.

Christopher Owens, who had worked as a school resource officer at Hope High School, went to assist the woman driving the car that Sparfven had struck. Owens then pursued Sparfven as he attempted run away and tackled him in what turned into a violent struggle. Providence officers, some of whom Owens worked with or attended academy with, arrived along with state police and others.

According to the lawsuit, Owens was then assaulted, handcuffed and placed in the back of a cruiser by Providence officers Martin A. Rawnsley and Frank Furtado, Lt. Oscar Perez and state police Detective Mark McGarrity, despite repeatedly identifying himself as a Providence police officer.

Christopher Owens suffered multiple injuries and received injured in the line of duty benefits. He has been approved by the Retirement Board for a disability pension. He never returned to work.

The lawsuit alleges that although Owens single-handedly apprehended Sparvfen while putting himself in grave danger, he and his son were treated as criminals. “They were assaulted, arrested, handcuffed and placed in the rear of police cars due to the color of their skin and because they are African Americans. One officer remarked that all he saw was a big black guy,” the suit says.

The suit also asserts that some of the officers who arrived on the scene later tried to deny that they participated or were even there. The Providence Police Department acknowledged that the treatment of Owens and his son was motivated by their race, the suit says…

The lawsuit alleges that the city and the department make a practice of providing inadequate training to officers regarding the use of force, preventing racial discrimination and bias, preventing abuse of authority, and recognizing, avoiding and otherwise safeguarding against racial stereotypes and profiling, so as to avoid the misidentification of off-duty and plainclothes African American police officers by other officers, the suit says.

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A White Artist Wrote ‘Black Lives Matter’ 2,000 Times. But His Mural Almost Said ‘All Lives Matter.’

By Kate Abbey-Lambertz, Huffington Post

The mural commissioned by Detroit’s N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. Huffington Post

The mural commissioned by Detroit’s N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art. (Huffington Post)

Artist Renda Writer wrote “Black Lives Matter” about 2,000 times last week on a wall in Detroit, the white text in his handwriting appearing both tiny, streaming over the black background, and huge, shouting its message to anyone who walks by.

Writer, a white painter and poet from Miami, was commissioned by Detroit’s N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art to create the mural. He worked on the piece for about 80 hours and finished earlier this week.

Gallery owner George N’Namdi said he wanted to spark dialogue and pay homage to the Black Lives Matter movement, which formed in response to police shootings of young black men and addresses racial inequality more broadly. But initially, he and the artist discussed incorporating the phrase “Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.”

Though the obvious meaning of “all lives matter” doesn’t contradict the assertion that black lives matter, some say changing the focus to “all lives” undermines the BLM movement and ignores its message that society doesn’t value black and white lives equally.

Artist and poet, Writer, with N'Nandi Gallery owner George N'Nandi. (N'nandi Center for Contemporary Art)

Artist and poet, Writer, with N’Nandi Gallery owner George N’Nandi. (N’nandi Center for Contemporary Art)

“All Lives Matter” has been used to criticize the movement’s tactics, appearing in Twitter fights, political speeches and more destructive scenarios. In July, a mural in Ottawa, Canada dedicated to a black woman who died in police custody was defaced, with the words “All Lives Matter” spray painted over her face. A Maryland church’s Black Lives Matter sign was vandalized twice this summer, with someone cutting out the first word.

“‘All Lives Matter’ really is a way of co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement,” N’Namdi told The Huffington Post. N’Namdi, who is black, ultimately decided that if Renda Writer included the words “All Lives Matter,” it would take away from the mural’s message.

“It really dawned on me, we’re talking about a movement here, we’re not talking about just a slogan,” N’Namdi continued. “We’re talking about something we’re trying to change, and once you start diluting the movement and making it ‘All Lives Matter’ … What issue is ‘All Lives Matter’ confronting? None.”

“I think ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a message of love,” he [Writer] said. “This particular race needs a little more attention, a little more love.”

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Why It Isn’t Possible For Black Americans To Appropriate African Culture

By Julia Craven, Politics Reporter, The Huffington Post

(Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) Parade participants march with a tribal themed group wearing colorful face paint. The 46th Annual African-American Day Parade was held in Harlem; the spectators, politicians and prominent members of Harlem's black community celebrated the historically-rich NYC community of those from different African heritages.

(Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Parade participants march with a tribal themed group wearing colorful face paint. The 46th Annual African-American Day Parade was held in Harlem; the spectators, politicians and prominent members of Harlem’s black community celebrated the historically-rich NYC community of those from different African heritages.

Columbus Fortune was the name given to my great-great grandmother’s grandfather. I only know this because my Nana is a stickler for attempting to compose family trees. I say “attempting” because, with the exception of what has been told to us, it is difficult to recount an undocumented lineage.

My grandfather was an enslaved African. He was 18 when slavery was abolished in the United States and I don’t know if he knew his mother, his father, his brothers, his sisters or his grandparents. I do not know if he knew what tribe he hailed from.

For black Americans, tracing our lineages back to their African origins is almost impossible (unless we use DNA testing). African enslavement left us devoid of a way to define ourselves. It severed familial ties and deprived us of any viable opportunity to reclaim them. When we go looking for our ancestors and their culture, we’re chasing shadows.

This is why it hurts when native Africans criticize black American attempts to regain a lost portion of ourselves. Writer Zipporah Gene, who identifies as both British and Nigerian, wrote a post earlier this month claiming that black Americans can appropriate African culture — since we are American — by wearing tribal garb to be “trendy.” Backlash to her piece led her to write an equally obtuse follow-up declaring that, based on her own experiences, it is unnecessary for black people to showcase their Africanness…

It is understandable why an African woman might look at a picture of Afropunk’s New York festival attendees, recoil and believe her culture is being used as a costume (though The Root pointed out that, because of New York’s diversity, whether or not the people in the photo are African-American or African immigrants cannot be determined). But cultural appropriation requires a degree of economic and political privilege black Americans simply do not have. We cannot oppress Africans, shame their cultures, claim it for ourselves and then decide it’s trendy. Even if we could, that’s certainly not what’s happening here, by any stretch of the imagination…

 

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Jeb Bush, ‘Free Stuff’ and Black Folks

By Charles M. Blow, the New York Times

Jeb_BushAt a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and get them to vote for him.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

…Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of “free stuff,” this line of reasoning also infantilizes black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about black progress.

One of the houses in the Bush family compound in Maine.

One of the houses in the Bush family compound in Maine.

It echoes the trope about lazy “welfare queens,” although as a report last year from the Congressional Research Service makes clear: “Historically, nonwhite women had a higher labor force participation rate than did white women. This especially held true for married women.”

Furthermore, although blacks are disproportionately the recipients of programs likes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult receiving the benefit work, and of those with families, “almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

Can't survive on min wageThe problem isn’t refusal to work, but inability to find work that is stable and pays a living wage, thereby pushing them out of need and eligibility.

Bush’s comment also hints at the role of black men without acknowledging the disastrous toll racially skewed patterns of mass incarceration have taken on the fortunes of black families by disproportionately ensnaring black men.

All history and context are cast aside in support of a specious argument: That the black community is plagued by pathological dependence and a chronic, self-defeating posture of victimization…

Black folk don’t want “free stuff” as much as the fulfillment of the promise of freedom: true equality of access, opportunity and justice. Bush — and America — would do well to consider that.

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Art Student Hangs ‘Black Only’ And ‘White Only’ Signs Around University Campus

By Priscilla Frank, Arts Writer, The Huffington Post

 

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On Wednesday, Sept. 16, students of the University of Buffalo were shocked to find “White Only” and “Black Only” signs hung near campus bathrooms. Students were sickened and traumatized by the apparent act of racism; by 1 p.m., the police had received 11 phone calls regarding the signage.

It was later revealed, however, that the signs reminiscent of the Jim Crow era were put on display by graduate fine arts student Ashley Powell, who is black, as part of an art project.

Before Powell admitted to hanging the signs at a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting on Wednesday night, students and faculty were left wondering about the source of the racist designations. “We didn’t know it was an art project, it could’ve been an act of terrorism,” a student explained to The Spectrum, the independent campus newspaper.

When Powell revealed that she was behind the act, a project for her “Installation: Urban Spaces” class, which requires students to install art in a public space, many students stormed out of the BSU assembly, some in tears. “It brought up feelings of a past that our generation has never seen, which I think is why it was so shocking for us to see,” Micah Oliver, president of the BSU, told ABC.

whitesonlyAs an artist, I respect you as an artist,” said student Jefry Taveras in the BSU meeting. “But you should know racism isn’t art, it’s a reality and traumatizing.”

In a statement to The Spectrum, Powell explained the reasoning behind her installation, which addresses issues of non-white suffering and white privilege. “I apologize for the extreme trauma, fear, and actual hurt and pain these signs brought about,” she wrote. “I apologize if you were hurt, but I do not apologize for what I did.”

She went on to expand upon the motivations behind the project, which was intended to spark outrage and discomfort in viewers.

“My art practice is not an act of self-policing meant to hide my rage. Instead, it uses pain, narrative, and trauma as a medium of expression and as grounds for arguing a need for change in the first place. I understand that I forced people to feel pain that they otherwise would not have had to deal with in this magnitude. But I ask, should non-white people not express or confront their trauma? Should we be content with not having to confront that pain? We know it exists, and it often causes many of us immediate discomfort. Should we not be in a state of crushing discomfort?

These signs made you feel discomfort. They are tangible objects that forced you to revisit your past, to confront your present, and to recognize here and now the underlying social structures that are directly responsible for your pain and suffering. This project makes forceful what has been easy for you to ignore.”

Read Powell’s statement in full here

 

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