Segment of a very interesting 1994 interview by Tony Brown of Dr. Khalid Al-Mansour, author of numerous books on Black history and culture.
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By Elliot Booker — 4 years ago
Has the Congressional Black Caucus Lost Its Conscience?
The activist group Color for Change charges that the CBC PAC serves corporations, not African Americans.
By David Dayen
March 2, 2016
Throughout primary season, Hillary Clinton has dominated with African Americans, winning higher percentages than Barack Obama garnered against her in 2008. This can lead to a too-pat assumption that the black community represents a monolithic voting bloc, with identical concerns and preferences. While it’s true that African Americans are empirically among the most loyal Democratic voters, the idea that there’s no daylight between millions of people makes no sense.
Organizations like Color of Change and the Black Lives Matter movement are targeting a fundamental question in the networked political era: Who gets to speak for a community.
One example of the fault lines within this large constituency presented a challenge this week to the black political leadership in Washington. Online progressive group Color of Change directly questioned the motives of the Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee, or CBC PAC. The challenge was precipitated by a non-endorsement of high-profile black U.S. Senate candidate Donna Edwards, but it raised a much larger issue: Does the Congressional Black Caucus faithfully represent the best interests of the community at large, or instead of the corporate interests that fund it?
This campaign arm of the CBC, Color of Change charged, trades off the history and prestige of the caucus, but is dominated by corporate lobbyists. Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, calls the maneuver “civil-rights washing,” much like the “greenwashing” that corporations engage in to burnish their environmental image. “Corporations give money or create alliances with civil-rights communities to avoid being held accountable for their bad practices,” Robinson says.
The CBC brand is used for multiple entities. First, there’s the congressional caucus, which dates back to 1971 and now includes 46 members, 45 of whom are Democrats (Republican Mia Love of Utah is also a member). There’s the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, nominally a research institute with a separate leadership team, which features a scholarship program, a philanthropic fund, and various other initiatives. There’s the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, a “social purpose” organization engaged in voter education and leadership training. Finally, there’s the CBC PAC, launched in 1990 to increase the number of African Americans in Congress and foster black political participation.
These last three, all one step removed from the actual caucus, sadly often serve as a way to launder corporate contributions through the political system. Back in 2010, The New York Times explained that over a five-year period, the CBC Foundation had pulled in $53 million in corporate money from pharmaceutical, financial, telecommunications, and other interests. Little of that cash went to research or scholarships; the lion’s share went to glitzy conventions, golf and casino junkets, and paying off the foundation’s headquarters.
Despite the long history of the Congressional Black Caucus as an un-bought collection of socially conscious leaders, these extreme efforts to buy influence cannot help but have an impact. In recent years, CBC members have joined with Republicans to repeatedly undermine Dodd-Frank financial rules. Others have been accused of shilling for for-profit colleges. Still others formed the backbone of the fight against the (eventually passed) net-neutrality rules.
Color of Change focused on the CBC PAC because of the makeup of its 21-member board of directors, which decides political endorsements. Only eight of those directors are elected CBC members; the other 13 include two employees of the PAC and eleven corporate lobbyists. As Lee Fang laid out last month at The Intercept, these lobbyists represent dozens of firms, including student-loan servicer Navient, routinely accused of violating consumer-protection laws; Lorillard Tobacco, manufacturer of Newport cigarettes; dirty energy utilities Entergy and Energy Future Holdings; and Purdue Pharmaceuticals, maker of OxyContin and perhaps as responsible as any company for the opioid epidemic.
The PAC, which has raised $2.7 million since 2010, gets its funding from the biggest firms in America, like telecoms AT&T and Comcast, payday lender Cash America, mega-banks JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, minimum-wage foe the National Restaurant Association, and private-prison firm Corrections Corporation of America.
Many of these industries directly target black communities, whether through mass incarceration or the subprime lending crisis or opposing the Fight for $15. Even the white Democratic presidential candidates have disavowed private prison money; the fact that the CBC PAC cannot is disquieting. “These are corporations that we’re consistently campaigning against,” says Robinson. “They represent institutions that are not in the interest of black folks.”
While Bernie Sanders supporters criticized the CBC PAC for endorsing Hillary Clinton for President last month, the non-endorsement for Maryland’s open Senate seat is perhaps more egregious. Representative Edwards, a CBC member, is running to become only the second black woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate. But the PAC refused to endorse her in the primary against Representative Chris Van Hollen, who is white.
Former Congressman Al Wynn, now a corporate lobbyist and a CBC PAC board member, led the charge against endorsing Edwards, according to Politico. This is incredibly problematic; Wynn lost his seat in a primary to Edwards in 2008. “It raises all the questions that people have about Washington, and why people don’t trust Washington,” Robinson says.
When the CBC PAC endorses political candidates, it gives the mistaken impression that the caucus members made the endorsement. Congressional Black Caucus members had to correct the record by disavowing the Clinton endorsement of their own PAC within hours of the announcement.
When CBC PAC held its endorsement announcement for Clinton, Robinson says, “Nowhere in the pictures did you see corporate lobbyists at the microphone.” To Color of Change, the CBC PAC allows corporate power to brandish the shield of institutions with high regard among black people, in ways that deceive the community. In the group’s petition to members of the CBC, Color of Change demands that the caucus change the composition of the PAC board and drop ties with industries that directly harm the black community.
When asked by BuzzFeed about the Color of Change action, CBC PAC executive director Benjamin Branch (himself a former telecom lobbyist) declined to comment.
Organizations like Color of Change and the Black Lives Matter movement, which sit outside the political power base and can criticize the gatekeepers, have always operated as a spur to hold leaders accountable. And they are targeting a fundamental question in the networked political era: Who gets to speak for a community?
It can be uncomfortable to criticize an organization that has persevered for decades as the “Conscience of the Congress.” But when the CBC tries to play an inside game and falls under the spell of big money, the credibility it’s worked so hard to sustain—and which corporations want desperately to tap into—can vanish.
Robinson says he’s received a lot of thanks—privately—from members of the African American political community in Washington for taking a stand. “Just because someone’s on the PAC and works as a lobbyist doesn’t mean they’re not a good person,” he says. “But it does mean they’re compromised. If we don’t raise this issue, then we lose our moral authority.”Post Views: 1,046
By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a corrosive culture of silence.
IBRAM X KENDI May 14, 2018
A 911 caller living in a nonwhite neighborhood snitches.
A man wearing a black hoodie “busted both my truck windows out,” the caller reported on March 18, “and he’s in people’s backyards right now.” Two officers, Terrence Mercadal, a black man, and Jared Robinet, a white man, arrived on the nighttime scene in South Sacramento. Several minutes later, Mercadal and Robinet were running up a dark driveway, pursuing the suspect, flashlights clearing their sight. “Hey! Show me your hands! Stop! Stop!” one shouted. They turned a corner and through the glare of their flashlights saw a 22-year-old black male in his own backyard.
“Gun, gun, gun!” an officer yelled seconds later. Body-cam footage showed Stephon Clark seemingly abiding by their last order, turning to them to show them his hands, one of which clasped his white iPhone. A belief “the suspect was pointing a firearm at them,” to quote the Sacramento Police Department’s statement, is all police need to become executioners. Police officers do not require certainty to exact the certainty of death.
Both officers unloaded 20 shots into the darkness, at the darkness. “Are you hit?” one officer asked after the 20th shot. “No, I’m good,” the other responded.
Minutes later, a police sergeant arrived. The sergeant escorted Mercadal and Robinet to the street. “Hey mute,” the sergeant said, as he reached for his body camera. The audio of the Mercadal’s and Robinet’s body cameras fell silent, like Clark’s unarmed body nearby. More officers arrived on the scene and muted the audio of their body cameras, as shown in the more than 50 videos and two audio clips that Sacramento Police Department released in April.
Nearly two months have passed and only protesters have been arrested. Was justice muted in those critical moments after the shooting? What were those officers saying that they did not want investigators to hear? Will the Stephon Clark death story begin and end like far too many high-profile officer-involved death stories? A citizen, living apparently in a no-snitch black culture, snitches to police. Officers arrive, use lethal force, claim no misconduct, and every officer on the scene refuses to say otherwise. All too often, police officers appear dead-set on ensuring such incidents do not end how they began—in snitching.
Americans have talked constantly about a no-snitch black culture hampering police investigations, leaving violent criminals on the streets. But what about the no-snitch police culture that has hampered investigations into officer misconduct, leaving violent criminals on the streets?
Police officers should lead the way in fostering an American civic culture of reporting lawbreakers. It is their professional duty to snitch, to enforce the law first and foremost against themselves. How can they expect citizens to snitch to them if they refuse to snitch? How can they expect citizens to trust the criminal-justice system if they don’t trust the criminal-justice system? Snitching on each other remains their only salvation from this hypocrisy, their best tool for building trust with the communities they purport to serve and protect. But first, they’ll have to grapple with an empirical truth: Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a culture of silence.
That’s not something most law-enforcement leaders seem inclined to acknowledge. “Law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” complained Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February. “There is no ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ … meaning no cops are covering for cops in Las Vegas,” an apparently all-knowing Las Vegas real-estate investor and police watchdog claimed in the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s not that we’re all out here covering for one another,” said Sergeant Dan Hils, president of the Cincinnati police union. Loyalty “ends with criminal activity.”
Since the 1980s, police officers have grumbled of a growing no-snitch culture—not within their own ranks, but outside their blue wall in black and Latino neighborhoods. “I have been in hospital rooms, even on the street standing over somebody being loaded into an ambulance, and they refuse to talk, and you think, ‘What in the world are we here for?’” Sergeant Mike Huff said recently in Tulsa. “But you know this violence is going to spread.”
The mix of neighborhood anecdotes, police reports, media stories, no-snitch videos, apparel, television shows, and music lyrics have baked the popular belief in a no-snitch black culture, even among black people. The “no-snitch mentality is killing the black community,” a black prisoner serving a life sentence proclaimed in the Toledo Blade in 2014.
Police defenders like to point to the falling clearance rate for homicides as proof not of the falling clearance rate, but of the no-snitch black culture. In 1965, the rate of homicide cases ending in an arrest was more than 90 percent. By 2015, the rate had fallen to 64.1 percent.
Anecdotal evidence persists about individuals of all races refusing to report crimes. But evidence of uniquely black cultural hostility to snitching does not exist—it is yet another racist idea without any evidentiary standing. But when did Americans ever need evidence to believe something was culturally or behaviorally wrong with black people as a group? Racist ideas are believable, not provable.
The evidence points to black communities perhaps being more likely to snitch than white communities—and Latino communities being the most likely to snitch. The National Crime Victimization Survey compiled each year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2010 that violence against black people and white people were reported at nearly identical rates (blacks slightly higher), while violence against Latinos was the most likely to be reported. The latest National Crime Victimization Survey in 2016 again found violence against Latinos (52 percent) was more likely to be reported to the police than violence against blacks and whites (40 percent alike). For serious violent crimes, violence against Latinos (65 percent) and blacks (60 percent) was far more likely to be reported to the police than violence against whites (45 percent). But these statistics did not inflame the policing community to start lamenting about a no-snitch white culture.
Black youth are especially branded with a no-snitch culture, without evidence, and in the face of evidence to the contrary. Preliminary data from a survey administered to 1,500 community college students showed that if the perpetrator was a relative or a friend, whites were less likely to snitch than non-whites, despite whites reporting they trust the police far more than blacks, and despite twice as many blacks reporting they listened to music that ridiculed snitching.
Urban, black high-school dropouts may be the most maligned for not reporting crimes to police officers. And yet, police officers, ironically, rely on snitching especially from the hyper-incarcerated population of black high-school dropouts. The staggering volume of arrests of black and Latino youth over the last four decades would have ground the criminal-justice system to a halt if every single case went to trial. Plea agreements—defendants snitching on themselves and often snitching on others in exchange for more lenient sentences—have become as endemic as police informants in black and Latino neighborhoods. Over nine out of 10 federal cases, for example, end in plea agreements.
Police officers, however, do not appear to be commonly snitching on themselves, and accepting plea agreements. There is a no-snitch police culture that may be as widespread and harmful as the myth of a no-snitch black culture. The National Institute of Ethics surveyed 3,714 officers and academic recruits from 42 states in 1999 and 2000. A no-snitching code of silence commonly exists, responded 79 percent of officers. More than half of the officers said this no-snitch code does not bother them. Nearly half of the officers reported witnessing misconduct and not reporting it. That’s probably because 73 percent of responding officers said they’d be fired if they snitched. And 73 percent of the officers said the individuals pressuring them to keep quiet were leaders.
In 2001, a national survey of police attitudes conducted by the Police Foundation found that a majority of officers said turning a “blind eye” to police misconduct was not unusual. Meanwhile, roughly two-thirds reported they “did not always report serious criminal violations” by fellow officers and they’d be given the “cold shoulder” if they did.
In his forward to that report, the Police Foundation’s president, Hubert Williams, wrote, “Most of America’s police officers are honest, dedicated, hard-working public servants, and it is they, as well as the public they serve, who are victims of the ‘bad’ cop.” If most police officers are good, then they are being forced to operate in a bad policing culture where the personal desire to report misconduct is tempered by the top-down forces to remain silent—or, by their own self-interest of keeping their jobs and staying out of prison.
Even when undercover Atlanta officers fired 39 shots at 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in 2006 after busting into the wrong home, they refused to snitch. They planted drugs to cover themselves. Caught in their lies, two officers finally pled guilty and received reduced sentences. Three officers were imprisoned. Two years ago, when San Francisco officers accused a sergeant of making racist and sexist comments, the former head and acting consultant of the city’s police union called them “snitches.”
And then there’s the tragic death of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald in 2014. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke claimed he opened fire after the teenager lunged at him with a knife, a claim backed up by on-the-scene reports from three other officers. The dashcam video contradicted their claims, sparking protests that compelled Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to acknowledge the “blue wall of silence” in 2015. The Justice Department’s recent investigations of the Chicago and Baltimore police departments discovered broken systems of silence. When officers have stepped forward in Baltimore, the report found, “fellow officers have retaliated against them.”
In 2011, when a Baltimore detective asked a sergeant about reporting two fellow officers who brutally beat a suspect, he says the sergeant replied: “If you are rat, your career is done.” The good cop decided to be a rat. And the good cop’s career in Baltimore is done. The day before Baltimore detective Sean Suiter was scheduled to testify in a grand-jury hearing against fellow officers, he died from a shot by his own handgun. His death in November remains unsolved—one of the only unsolved deaths of a police officer in Baltimore’s history.
When will police departments focus more on rooting out their own no-snitching culture that undermines their job duties than on attacking a no-snitch black culture that does not exist? Not snitching is not a black problem nor a white problem nor a poor problem nor an urban problem nor a youth problem. Not snitching is an American problem—across races and spaces. When will police officers model for Americans the difficult civic duty of snitching against partners, against close friends, against violent neighbors? When will they show us by their actions that legality must trump loyalty and career and fear?
I want police officers to be comfortable snitching and I want to be comfortable snitching to them. Too often the response to the report of a minor crime like breaking car windows—or no crime at all—has ended in a life being lost and an officer back on duty weeks later. Part of me wants to keep police guns as far away from black bodies as I can. Because we fear their guns. They fear our bodies. Why would I want to play Russian roulette by reporting a crime?
It would be much easier for me to snitch if I trusted police officers around black bodies; if police officers always took the time to defuse and save; if black life mattered more than police fear; if arrests actually reduced crime; and if I saw resources going to rehabilitate human beings, rather than to cage human beings like they are animals.
Black people, in other words, have every reason not to snitch. And yet, the evidence shows, we still do—even as we are ridiculed for not doing so. Police officers have every reason to snitch. And yet they still commonly do not—and get praised as if they commonly do.
Stephon Clark’s death story could end differently if a Sacramento police officer steps forward to lead us all to justice. Police-involved death stories could end in justice if police officers everywhere are willing to do what black people do: start snitching.Post Views: 784
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Watching the protests that ensued after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Morgan DeBaun knew that the online forum that she had been working on part-time now needed her full-time attention.
Called Blavity (a mashup of “black” and “gravity”), the web site is a gathering place for black millennials to share their thoughts, stories and experiences. And, as protests across the country heated up, it seemed to DeBaun that there was no better time to bring the web site to life.
So in the fall of 2014, she quit her high paying Silicon Valley job at Intuit and dedicated herself to getting the online community off the ground.
“Yes, I could have marched in the streets,” said DeBaun. “But really my unique contribution and the contribution of our Blavity team was being able to be a platform and a space for people to get the word out about what was happening in their cities.”
Blavity aims to feature the hottest topics of the day, whether it’s Twitter’s reaction to a picture of Michelle Obama sporting natural hair or the latest wage gap statistics for black women. Content on the site is created both by readers and by Blavity’s own staff and partners.
“Blavity is supposed to be the vessel, but it’s up to our community to fill it with whatever they think is important,” she said. “So if one week, Beyoncé releases Lemonade and like, we get a thousand articles, who am I to say Beyoncé is or isn’t important?”
After leaving Intuit, DeBaun teamed up with co-founders Jonathan Jackson, Aaron Samuels and Jeff Nelson to turn Blavity into a business. The team has since secured more than $1 million in venture backing. According to Blavity’s web site, it now reaches more than 7 million people a month.
And DeBaun isn’t done yet. Recently, she announced the launch of another site called 21Ninety “exclusively for women of color.”
Only 26, DeBaun’s early successes have gotten her named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 and nominated for TechCrunch Founder of the Year.
Here is her American Success story:
What was your life like when you decided to create Blavity?
I worked in different parts of [Intuit], one of which was a start up that had been acquired by the company. So I moved to San Francisco, and as part of that, I found myself in your typical start up environment, even though I was working for this big company. It was very much like, lots of beer and dogs running everywhere.
I found myself thinking ‘Is this really the world that I want to live in for the rest of my life?’
Why leave the security of a full-time job to start a company?
People say ‘Why quit?’ Right? Like, why potentially go broke doing something?
And the answer is that around the same time, Mike Brown happened. So I’m sitting in my cubicle with puppies running around me and my city is in turmoil and there’s tension and it’s being broadcast around the world and what was my contribution to that?
Yes, I could have marched in the streets. Yes, I could have flown back to St. Louis, but really my unique contribution and the contribution of our Blavity team was being able to be a platform for people to get the word out about what was happening.
There wasn’t really a place that I felt like was giving the people who were actually doing the hard work a mouthpiece to amplify what they were working on and the problems that exist.
[Plus] I get to work with the most creative people in the world, I get to empower people that I care about that have been underserved by the technology industry and the media industry.
I get to wake up and literally think about how we can make the world better: How can we create more opportunities for people? How can we make more lanes for people to swim in?
How did your parents feel about this?
We’re two and half, almost three years into the business and I think just now do they feel a little bit more comfortable. After I’m nominated for Founder of the Year, after I was in Forbes 30 Under 30… like just now are they like ‘Ok cool, she’s not going to go bankrupt.’
But it was really tough. There were a lot of tears, a lot of family dinner conversations where I wanted to just hide in the corner. Because they worked so hard to get me and my brother here.
So it didn’t go well at first, but we’re all in it together now.
What was your biggest hurdle when trying to get Blavity off the ground?
I think my biggest hurdle was myself, my own mentality.
There are some things that I wish I had done earlier personally, in terms of believing in myself and what we were creating. I had a little bit of imposter syndrome.
I think that has probably held us back. We could probably be further and bigger and have given more opportunities to people a little bit earlier if I had been able to get my mind right.
How important do you think Blavity is as a platform for people to share their opinions and their work right now?
It’s incredibly important. I think people being able to say what they need to say and having a place to say it that is going to take them seriously and amplify it is paramount to us as a country — particularly for minorities and people who are not a part of the mainstream dominant culture right now.
I feel like it’s important for us to have stories and messages and for us to see others who reflect our own values — especially if we’re not in power.
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