By Michael Hill
“Newark is here! We’re ready to work! We work or nobody works,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
Baraka made good on his promise and led a protest at the Port of Newark, first shutting down one lane of truck traffic and then all lanes on Corbin Street outside the Maher Terminal where he tried to deliver job applications from Newark residents. Port Authority Police watched. Some truckers became hopeless and turned around. Some port workers yelled, “Go back to Newark” and “Run the animals over!”
But, the mayor and hundreds of protesters who came by buses were undeterred as he held court in the middle of the road.
“Guy hit me up on Twitter said you should be worried about crime. I said I am that’s why I’m worried about jobs,” said Baraka said.
The mayor has asked the Justice and Labor departments to investigate and accuses the International Longshoremen’s Association and the New York Shipping Association of denying full-time jobs to Newark residents and said these Newarkers got temporary jobs but were not called back while counterparts from another town were.
“And all that we ask as citizens of the great city we call Newark is the opportunityto be a part of the greatest job opportunity that the great city of Newark has to offer,” Newark resident Alan Gates said.
In response to the mayor, the ILA’s president wrote: “Historically, the percentage of longshore workers who live in Newark has fluctuated. Even though many Newark residents have been hired for these jobs over the years, many of them have decided to move themselves and their families to other areas of New Jersey and New York to experience a different lifestyle.”
The city of Newark and the Waterfront Commission say the hiring numbers here are disappointing and staggering.
The commission was formed to combat corrupt hiring practices and it says as of March 1, this was the ethnic breakdown of the nearly 1,600 Port of Newark maintenance workers: 40 black, 252 Hispanic and 1,281 white — all men.
In a statement, the Waterfront Commission told us, “The Waterfront Commission has been tirelessly fighting to secure waterfront job opportunities for minorities and residents from Port communities. While our efforts have resulted in an overall increase in minority hiring, the practices of the New York Shipping Association, Inc. (NYSA) and the International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO (ILA), and others continue to result in an incredible lack of diversity in waterfront employment.”
The ILA said the mayor knows what it stands for and has accepted its $9,000 in contributions to his political war chest. Its president said, “The longshore industry is committed to a discrimination-free waterfront” and “Mayor Baraka presents multiple claims to create the appearance of nonexistent racial discrepancies”
And the Shipping Association, which does the hiring, says the most recent numbers paint a much different picture than the mayor’s.
But, these Newark residents cheered on their mayor’s employment quest.
“We have to say if we can’t get employed there’s going to be hell to pay down there at that port until they start opening up their doors to all Newark residents in this city,” said Baraka.
They vowed this is not the last protest here, it’s the first.
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By Elliot Booker — 1 year ago
By Char Adams Feb 6, 2020
When he wasn’t helping some 600 slaves escape through the Underground Railroad, David Ruggles was running a bookstore. In 1828, Ruggles opened a grocery store in New York City and later, as he became involved in the burgeoning abolitionist movement, opened a reading room and a bookstore for Black Americans. It was the nation’s first Black-owned bookstore.
In a building in what is now known as the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, Ruggles sold anti-slavery works and later published the Mirror of Liberty, known as the nation’s earliest Black magazine. This made him especially concerning to slavecatchers and anti-abolitionists, because not only was Ruggles facilitating escapes via the Underground Railroad, but he was also disseminating politically problematic works. Still, he ran a boarding house, reading room, and the bookstore through riots and attacks before leaving New York in 1839. He was repeatedly beaten and jailed for his efforts.
Born a free man, Ruggles was an ardent advocate for abolition. He even helped free Frederick Douglass from slavery by hiding Douglass in his own home. With Ruggles gone from New York, though, his store was no more. But its legacy lived on: His business was the first in a long tradition of Black-owned bookstores with ties to Black political liberation.
“Black bookstores have continuously been hubs for the community to simply be with one another.”
Before Ruggles, the community’s need for Black literature was largely met by Black bibliophiles like him who went to great lengths to collect books, periodicals, and newspapers by Black writers that focused on Black life. Their goal was to make Black literature available to the Black community in reading rooms at a time when Black people were routinely told no books by or about them existed.
Today’s brick-and-mortar Black bookstores continue the legacy of the space that Ruggles created. Black bookshops, owned and operated by Black people, cater to the community with written works by and for Black readers. Many shops also feature a variety of writings by non-Black authors. For all their transformation over the centuries, though, Black bookstores have continuously been hubs for the community to simply be with one another.
Historically, Black independent booksellers have been viewed as the keepers of Black culture. And just as Ruggles’s store allowed him to purvey abolitionist works, many Black bookshops have been closely tied to political movements of their day. Because of this, the stores have long been sites of liberation — and government interest.
“They felt he was running some type of movement here because he was promoting Black culture.”
Some of the earliest business owners to follow Ruggles’s example were Lewis Michaux, an outspoken activist who owned the famous National Memorial African Bookstore, a Harlem landmark that opened in the 1930s, and Alfred and Bernice Ligon of the Aquarian Book Shop in Los Angeles, which operated as early as the 1940s and was a stopping place for writers like Maya Angelou and Alex Haley. In the 1960s, more than a century after Ruggles ran his store, the daughter of Dawud Hakim, the owner of Hakim’s Bookstore in Philadelphia, heard her father talk about the FBI agents perched outside his shop.
“People used to stand across the street from the store and take pictures,” Yvonne Blake tells Mic about her father’s store. “They felt he was running some type of movement here because he was promoting Black culture.”
In 1968, then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered FBI outposts across the country to investigate Black bookstores and their owners as part of COINTELPRO, the infamous counterintelligence program that worked to combat the Black Power movement. Each office was ordered to spy on “Black extremist and/or African-type bookstores” to determine whether they served as secret meeting places or hubs for Black extremists.
Some 140 miles away from Hakim’s Bookstore, veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a major direct-action civil rights organization formed in the early 1960s, were having their own run-ins with federal law enforcement at the Drum and Spear Bookstore in Washington, D.C. The store quickly became a target for federal law enforcement because of its links to prominent Black activists like Stokely Carmichael. Judy Richardson, an early member of SNCC who worked in the bookstore, recalls a pair of FBI agents visiting the shop.
“It was so obvious who they were,” Richardson tells Mic. “These two white guys, they always looked the same. Very buttoned up, standard-issue shoes. They were buying up Mao’s ‘[Little] Red Book’ and all of the revolutionary literature … to ‘prove’ the case that we were left-wing and to minimize any support we might have in the public sphere. It was an attempt to smear us.”
“They were tracking us,” she continues. “We all had [FBI] files.” The FBI’s monitoring of the group is well-documented, with several files made public by the FBI.
In 1971, Hakim was quoted calling the operation “a waste of taxpayers’ money,” per The Atlantic. “We are trying to educate our people about their history and culture,” he lamented, adding that the FBI should have been pursuing other priorities like “organized crime and dope peddlers.”
“Black bookstores are political spaces. That connection to politics was absolutely essential.”
The feds’ interest in Black booksellers spanned the country. In New York City, booksellers like Michaux and Una Mulzac of Liberation Bookstore were monitored. Edward Vaughn of Vaughn’s Bookstore in Detroit was singled out too, along with the owners of Denver’s Sundiata bookstore. Even Martin Sostre, whose Afro Asian Book Shop was located in relatively lesser-known Buffalo, New York, was under investigation for simply selling Black literature, as University of Baltimore history professor Joshua Clark Davis notes in his book From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs.
“Black bookstores are political spaces,” Davis tells Mic. “That connection to politics was absolutely essential to these bookstores. So many Black activists, so many Black people who started bookstores in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the vast majority of them came out of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. You have folks who come out of movements and start bookstores. That’s a pattern that repeats itself.”
The late ‘60s marked a sharp increase in Black independent bookstores, and the timing of the surge — during the height of the Black Power Movement — was no coincidence. Hoover was right about one thing: Black bookstores were gathering places rooted in activism. But they went far beyond politics, too. These shops catered to the community and provided a space for Black people to come and not only read, but also talk about what they read. Chester and Lillie Owens and James and Dorothy McField, two Black couples, understood this full-well when they opened The Hub in 1965 in Kansas City, Kansas. They served tea and gourmet foods to those who came to the bookstore to simply hang out, and sold African clothing and jewelry, according to Kansas City-based NPR affiliate KCUR.
“[It was about] the young people who would sit down on the floor of The Hub and read the books,” Chester Owens told KCUR in October. “[Profit] had nothing to do with it.”
The number of Black bookstores dwindled along with the Black Power Movement in the mid- to late-’70s. And the dismal economy of the decade only led to more closures. However, in the ‘90s, major Black cultural and political moments — like the Los Angeles Riots, the Million Man March, and hip-hop’s golden age — led to a sharp increase in such stores.There was a renewed interest in Black history, especially after New York’s Howard Beach killing in the late ‘80s and a series of fire-bombings at southern Black churches in the ‘90s, according to the Los Angeles Times. Major bookstore chains took notice and ramped up their African-American book offerings, the Times reported then. But the variety and culturally specific titles that the major retailers lacked, Black independent bookstores offered to literature-thirsty Black communities.
“It was a vehicle for people looking for new ideas and thoughts from a Black or African-centered perspective.”
Akbar Watson, director of the Boynton Beach, Florida-based Pyramid Books, launched his shop in 1993 after he and his friends grew tired of having little access to books by Black writers and about Black life, academia, and culture.At the time, he says, “reading was hot.”
“It became political,” Watson tells Mic of his store. “I didn’t start [the store] to become political, but I was housing [books] with universal issues that catered toward Black people. It was a vehicle for people looking for new ideas and thoughts from a Black or African-centered perspective. The customers demanded that. It quickly became political because it was part of the business. It’s what people wanted.”
The number of Black bookstores peaked with at least 200 in the mid-‘90s, Davis says, before plummeting over the years to just 54 in 2014, according to the African American Literature Book Club. The number slightly recovered to reach 70 in 2016, per the database. When you put those numbers in context, you realize how precarious the situation was for Black bookstores: The Open Education Database notes that independent bookstores overall endured a precipitous drop too, thanks to the rise of Amazon and major chains — from more than 4,000 independent stores in the early ‘90s to just 1,900 by 2011.
But now, yet another revolutionary political climate has resulted in a new wave of Black-owned bookstores, even as brick-and-mortar bookstores struggle in the shadow of online titans like Amazon. Today, the African American Literature Book Club estimates that about 120 Black-owned bookstores are operating in the U.S.
“People are realizing bookstores offer something special,” Davis says, crediting “everything from Obama’s second term and Trayvon Martin to Black Lives Matter and Black Twitter” for drawing increased attention to racism and injustice and fueling an uptick in interest in Black life.“Black bookstores are uniquely positioned to serve citizens who want to learn more about Black history and culture or learn about racism,” Davis says.
Of course, the books are part of the appeal, too. The latest increase in Black bookstores may also be due in part to the “huge number of excellent new Black authors,” Davis says. Writers like Tressie McMillan Cottom, Brittney Cooper, Roxane Gay, and Kiese Laymon have produced works that fly from the shelves and spark meaningful conversations, Davis says, and Black bookstores have long been a stopping place for Black writers promoting their work.
“Whatever the country is going through, the Black community is feeling it 17 times harder.”
Still, bookstore ownership is known as one of the most challenging plights in retail. Many of the stores still in existence have relied on monetary help from their communities. Blake, who still runs her father’s store in Philadelphia, has turned to crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to keep the doors open. Other shops, like Seattle’s Life Enrichment Bookstore, have done the same.
This was also the case for Noëlle Santos, the owner of The Lit. Bar in the Bronx, New York. Despite having no bookselling (or retail) experience, she stepped in to fill a void after the neighborhood’s only bookstore — a Barnes & Noble — closed. She used her social media prowess and several pop-up shops to establish the Lit. Bar name before opening the store in 2019.
“Whatever the country is going through, the Black community is feeling it 17 times harder,” Santos tells Mic. “It’s not that we lack the talent — we lack the investments. We have to go out and get it.”
Santos’s shop includes a wine bar, and she additionally holds offsite events and even provides textbooks for nearby schools. Her model is similar to the one that held up Black bookshops in decades past. Just as Lit. Bar provides a space for the community to gather, so does Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Philadelphia (owned by Marc Lamont Hill), WORD in Brooklyn, and many more.
While we enjoy this most recent wave of Black bookstores, it’s hard not to wonder whether some new pressure — political, social, or economic — will once again diminish their number. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that these shops are as resilient as the people who occupy them. Santos, for example, sees her business not as an entry in history but as an investment in what’s to come.
“I never thought about making my mark on history. That never registered,” she says. “I’m thinking about the future and how much impact I can make.”Post Views: 2,090
By Elliot Booker — 4 years ago
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the top prosecutor with a notorious reputation for turning a blind-eye to following ethics rules, has clearly seen the proverbial handwriting on the wall.
Williams a few days ago announced that he would not seek reelection to a third term. That suprise announcement evidenced belated recognition by Williams that his quest for reelection would be an uphill struggle if not an impossible mission thanks to fallout from his many ethical failings and questionable practices, as well as ongoing criminal investigations into his finances by the FBI and IRS.
That career-ending announcement by Williams came weeks after Philadelphia’s Ethics Board slapped this once promising and popular politician with a $62,000 fine for his failure to file mandatory financial disclosure forms for five years. His fine – the largest ever levied by Philadelphia’s Ethics Board – faulted Williams for not reporting over $160,000 in gifts that included fancy vacations and expensive jewelry, including from attorneys who were defending cases against his department.
Williams claimed improbably that he merely forgot to file the mandatory disclosure forms from 2010 to 2015.
But that claim fails the laugh test because Williams once served as Philadelphia’s Inspector General, the post tasked with ethics rule enforcement. During his announcement about withdrawing from reelection, Williams apologized for the embarrassment and shame he brought on the District Attorneys Office.
The Williams’ re-election prospects were already in doubt due to erosions of support among his core constituency in the black community and his calculated if unsuccessful effort to cultivate support from Philadelphia’s police union. That labor organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, has a history of reflexively backing police brutality and misconduct that primarily impacts blacks in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.
In recent weeks the FOP launched attacks on Williams arising in part from his decisions not to prosecute civilians who had been victims in questionable confrontations with police officers. Those FOP attacks included an anti-Williams billboard on the major interstate highway that runs through the center of Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s NAACP branch recently blasted Williams for failing to prosecute three white men involved in a fatal building collapse while gaining the convictions of two poor black men connected with that incident. A civil trial jury in that building collapse recently found that the men Williams refused to prosecute were most responsible for that fatal incident, awarding the victims and victims’ families nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in damages.
Williams was already under fire in Philadelphia’s black community for his prosecution of five black state representatives for their failure to report gifts on financial disclosure forms –- the same crime that Williams committed which led to his record-setting Ethics Board fine.
The total value of all ‘gifts’ received by those five legislators was less than half of the value of just one gift Williams received in 2013 and failed to report until August 2016: $45,000 worth of roofing repairs on his home.
Autopsies of Williams’ fall from grace in Philadelphia’s news media fail to note a failing that produced international condemnation of this top prosecutor: his repeated gratuitous assaults on imprisoned Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia journalist widely considered to be an American political prisoner because of how politically corrupted his trial and appeals process has been.
One such assault came in early 2014 when DA Williams, a Democratic, aligned himself with Tea Party Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey to torpedo President Obama’s nomination of a respected lawyer to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.
The national police union had falsely accused Obama nominee Debo Adegbile of having successfully freed Abu-Jamal from death row when Adegbile worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The National FOP harped on Abu-Jamal’s conviction as a “cop killer.”
However, the lawyer whose courtroom arguments resulted in federal court rulings producing the conversion of Abu-Jamal’s death sentence into a life in prison term was not Adegbile but a law school professor who represented Abu-Jamal’s years before the LDF had even joined Abu-Jamal’s appeal.
The national FOP used Abu-Jamal as a bogey man to mask the true intent of its opposition to Adegbile: fear that Adegbile would continue Obama Administration efforts to address rampant police abuses.
The FOP letter that Seth Williams, Toomey and their Senate confederates seized upon to slam Adegbile clearly stated that organization’s concern that Adegbile would “certainly exacerbate” the Obama Administration’s “aggressive and punitive approach towards” police.
The national FOP bristled at the Justice Department’s investigation of errant police departments despite the fact that those investigations only produced recommendations for reforms not prosecutions of abusive officers or funding cuts for departments with persistent patterns of brutality.
DA Williams, hailing from a city with a history of police brutality, backed the national police union’s efforts to scuttle federal oversight of abuse policing. Williams’s actions against Obama’s nominee provided more evidence to critics who claimed he has an anti-black streak.
Rufus Seth Williams entered office in January 2010 with widespread support. Yet the actions and inactions of the first black to serve as the District Attorney of Philadelphia soon turned even avid supporters into ardent critics.
Williams, for example, campaigned for office in 2009 as an opponent of the death penalty. Yet in office, Williams bitterly castigated Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf for initiating a moratorium on executions in 2015, going so far as filing a legal challenge against it.
That moratorium on executions arose in part from revelations that staff members working for DA Williams had mislead state officials during their deliberations about a death row inmate. Philadelphia prosecutors were found to have illegally withheld critical evidence during that inmate’s murder trial in 1986, which tainted his conviction.
Williams, ironically, had campaigned in 2009 as an opponent of unjust convictions.
Williams wasted a lot of political capital defending three staff members caught up in ‘Porngate’ –- the scandal related to revelations that a bunch of Pennsylvania judges and stat- level prosecutors in the attorney general’s office had exchanged emails containing racist, misogynic and homophobic content. One of those staff members — a former state level prosector — was at the center of the prosecution of those five black state legislators and the two black men connected with that fatal building collapse. Williams repeatedly rejected requests to fire those ‘Porngate’ staff members, including demands from irate female members of Philadelphia’s City Council.
Williams’ failure to consistently pursue basic justice overshadowed the reforms he implemented.
Those failures included his indefensible insistance on a retrial of man cleared by DNA after having spent 25-years in prison, as well as his year-plus-long attempt to convict a young man for an alleged crime that defied common sense.
In that second case, the blind next-door neighbor of that young man –- a woman with a history of making false accusations -– had told police her dog had dialed 911, saving her from asphyxiation after an alleged robber had supposedly turned on her gas stove during an attempted break-in. Williams eventually dropped charges against man following criticisms in the media and from community activists over the absurd claim.
Philadelphia attorney and activist Michael Coard responded to a reporter’s inquiry about Williams’ decision to withdraw from the DA’s race with this statement: “I say good riddance to bad rubbish.” Over the weekend, the city’s main paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a lead editorial, called on Williams, who had said he intended to finish out his term of office, leaving early in 2018, to resign immediately because of his scandals.
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Breaking Down the Stats: Report Reveals Blacks Make Up More than Half the Prison Population in 12 StatesBy Elliot Booker — 5 years ago
June 17, 2016 | Posted by Shaundra Selvaggi
Black people are incarcerated in the nation’s state prisons five times as often as whites, a new study indicates.
The Sentencing Project’s latest report on racial and ethnic inequalities in the American prison system examined the prevailing issue on a state-by-state basis.
“Since the majority of people in prison are sentenced at the state level rather than the federal level, it is critical to understand the variation in racial and ethnic composition across states,” Ashley Nellis, author and senior research analyst wrote in the report, “and the policies and the day-to-day practices that contribute to this variance.”
The criminal justice advocates used federal data to compare rates of imprisonment for Black, white and Hispanic populations. And the findings show that African-Americans continue to face seemingly insurmountable odds in the fight for blind justice in this country.
- Overall, Blacks are locked up in state prisons at a rate of of 1,408 per 100,000 people; Hispanics, 378 per 100,000; and whites, 275 per 100,000.
- African-Americans in Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin are imprisoned at a rate more than 10 times that of whites.
- In 12 states, African-Americans make up more than half of the prisoners: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
- 72 percent of Maryland’s prison population is Black — the highest proportion in the U.S.
- 11 states report at least 1 in 20 adult Black males in prison.
Oklahoma, which has the country’s highest population of Black prisoners, holds 1 in 15 Black males aged 18 and older in prison.
The problem of Black mass incarceration is present in every state in the union. In Hawaii, the state with the lowest racial disparity, Blacks still serve time at a rate two times that of whites. It is a systemic matter states can not continue to ignore.
According to the report, at least three factors come up over and over again in the multiple studies done on the subject: “policies and practices that drive disparity; the role of implicit bias and stereotypes in decision making; and, structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.”
Nellis suggests states look to New Jersey’s reforms, which included the revisions to drug laws that have contributed to the mass incarceration of African-Americans since the 1990s, specifically drug-free school zone laws.
The Sentencing Project study concludes with five recommendations for state policymakers:
- Scale back on prison sentences for low-level drug offenders, and put more resources into drug prevention and rehabilitative programs.
- Re-evaluate and amend statutory mandates on minimum sentences that prevent judges from considering cases on an individualized basis.
- Reduce the use of “Three Strikes”-inspired penalties that result in excessively long sentences for repeat offenders.
- Train criminal justice officials at every level on the dangers of implicit bias, or the stereotypes and attitudes that affect our judgments and behavior on a subconscious level.
- Introduce Racial Impact legislation, which encourages lawmakers to consider how proposed laws might disproportionately affect minority communities.