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By Elliot Booker — 4 years ago
This statement of empowerment is scrawled on the wall at a University in South Africa.
This semester, at a historically Black college, I taught a course on African liberation movements that, in part, examined how such activism in Africa influenced Black Power across the globe. Most of the students in the class had not previously studied Africa and knew very little about Black Power.
After a few weeks, one student said she was ashamed that she used to see “Africa as one country” with “beautiful animals and textiles.” Another realized that he had “stereotyped an entire continent” despite the fact that he was from Chicago. “People stereotype where I’m from all the time,” he lamented. “Even when my friends come to visit me, they ask me if they have to worry about getting shot when they walk outside. They don’t seem to know that we have imaginations; we are creative and have families who work hard. There’s a lot going on in Chicago. I realize that I was doing the same thing with Africa.”
Exposure to independence movements in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana and Guinea; liberation wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau; and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the class readings and discussions helped the students develop a global consciousness in thinking about racial, gender and economic justice and aided them in understanding the nature of struggle and the legacies of racial and colonial oppression. It was powerful to discuss these struggles at an institution so critical to the lives of Black students and the larger community. An institution that struggles for funding and survival in a national environment that is hostile to its existence and in a climate of corporatized university culture. Whether the students and surrounding community will come first in this moment is an open question.
We discussed the “freedom dreams” of movement activists, as well as their critiques of colonialism and white supremacy. We read the work of Franz Fanon, Assata, Aimé Césaire, Amílcar Cabral, Steven Biko, Mamphela Ramphele, Walter Rodney, Kwame Turé (also known as Stokely Carmichael) and hosts of others. Students provocatively made connections between the past and the present, between conditions in places on the other side of the world and in their own hometowns. They talked about systems of oppression that have changed over time and they learned about people, some their age, who challenged those systems.
Within the first two weeks, one student asked, “Well, if colonialism and white supremacy are so ingrained in the fabrics of societies, doesn’t that mean we have to reinvent the whole system?” I love those types of questions, and my answer went something like this: “Well … yes! How can we do that? How have people approached this in the past? How do they do so now?” Several of them plan to be educators and they felt strongly that they wanted to start with very young children, by creating programs that challenged these ideas almost from birth. Others argued that we needed a global movement and that it was more possible now than ever before because of social media.
When another student realized that the Black Panthers were anti-capitalist, she exclaimed in surprise, “They wanted to bring down capitalism? What were they going to replace it with?” I told them that the Panthers merged a number of ideologies, including revolutionary nationalism, Maoism and intercommunalism. I reminded them that some of the authors we read argued that even our imaginations are colonized, which prevents us from thinking beyond the current systems. I asked them if they could imagine a system that put people ahead of profits. It was a challenge, but they were open to thinking about it.
The discussions of Black Power were often complicated because activists approached Black self-determination from different perspectives and because sometimes people think that Black Power is anti-white rather than anti–white supremacy. Interestingly, sometimes students think all activists were extremists rather than recognizing Black Power as a strategy for Black liberation and a response to extreme conditions. In particular, we discussed their focus on the most marginalized, self-determination, self-defense, the critique of capitalism, the goal of removing the spiritual and cultural cancer of eurocentrism, the analysis and exposure of state-sanctioned violence and connections to Third World liberation struggles.
In one of my sadder moments during the class, an African-American male military student responded to the reading by saying, “This guy seems very angry about colonialism, but without it, none of us would be here today.” I suggested that some people also say the same thing about slavery, and he shrugged, responding, “Well … yeah.”
What kind of education had this student experienced that kept this ideology intact and unquestioned? He had experienced at least 16 years of school and this college may be his last stop of formal education. His debates with his peers and with me helped him start to recognize the structural conditions that Black people are facing worldwide and the problems inherent to a system with embedded exploitation. I came to enjoy listening to how he made sense of the material he was reading and the things that stood out to him.
As an educator, I constantly think about how to expose students to the ways activists challenged deeply structural and seemingly intractable conditions in the past. I push them to imagine beyond what we see now, to develop a vision for the world and to engage in struggle for a better and more just future, through whatever approaches makes sense for them. HBCUs are a powerful vehicle for this possibility. I have never had a body of students that connected so clearly and directly to the information I was teaching.
On this historically Black campus, infrastructure, systems and funding are deep and significant challenges. The lack of access to basic resources for teaching and learning speaks to the economic disinvestment and organized abandonment faced by many institutions. The digital divide is real. The politics of survival are serious. Sometimes, things just don’t work and no one knows why. In some circles, eurocentrism still rules in teaching despite efforts to change the curriculum. Some persons, who are not necessarily committed to Black students, much less to Black liberation, hold key positions. Some of the white professors complained incessantly about students who don’t read, who don’t belong in college or who are generally subpar. For some, it is a response to feeling unable to inspire students who often are under siege in their lives; regarding others, I wonder why and how they found themselves teaching on this campus, on grounds that are beyond sacred, where people laid their lives on the line so that these students could have a chance at life.
In this mire, I also have encountered professors of all races who would go to the ends of the earth for students, who see this work as part of a larger project of social justice, who have vision and courage that defy their age or confirm their wisdom. They have challenged me to step up my game and to rise to the occasion myself. And compared to predominantly white institutions (PWIs), where the administrations “struggle” to hire talented Black Ph.Ds, an abundance of Black people with doctorates exist here, people who excel in their fields despite lack of support and colonial-esque situations.
Many people don’t realize that some HBCUs were not founded by Black people nor were they based on a mission of self-determination. Sometimes, they were founded in conditions more similar to colonial missionary educational initiatives in the Caribbean or in Africa. People of African descent took on these institutions and some worked to decolonize them, while others simply worked to model them after PWIs. I have a newfound respect for those who fight the good fight at these institutions, who are developing our next generations of Black doctors, teachers, community organizers, scientists and visionaries. These campuses remain critical spaces for educating, supporting, emboldening, and, sometimes, decolonizing.
Last year, an image circulated on Facebook of a young Black woman sporting a natural haircut walking past a graffitied wall: “Always remember, this university belongs to us.” It was an image from South Africa taken in the midst of the #FeesMustFall movement. #FeesMustFall and sister movements declared to the world that for Black South Africa, the promise of the movement against apartheid had not been fulfilled. In particular, higher education still needed to be decolonized, made financially accessible and infused with a vision of Black liberation.
HBCUs belong to us, too, and we must both support them and hold them accountable. As a community, we help determine whether they will fulfill their mission or betray it.
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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
Rodney Muhumza Dec 8, 2017
KAMPALA, Uganda — For years African leaders have toyed with the idea of free movement by citizens across the continent, even raising the possibility of a single African passport.
Now some African countries are taking bold steps to encourage borderless travel that could spur trade and economic growth on a continent in desperate need of both.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced during his inauguration last week that the East African commercial hub will now give visas on arrival to all Africans. That follows similar measures by nations including Benin and Rwanda.
“The freer we are to travel and live with one another, the more integrated and appreciative of our diversity we will become,” Kenyatta said.
The African Union has cheered such steps, calling it the direction the 54-nation continent needs to take. “I urge all African states that have not yet done so to take similar measures,” AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter after Kenya’s announcement.
Trade among African countries is at just 16 percent, while trade among European Union states is at 70 percent, Mahamat told AU trade ministers.
For a continent whose leaders often speak fondly of “African brotherhood” and once pondered the idea of a United States of Africa, the visa policies of many countries for many years suggested little progress in implementing the continent-wide, visa-free ideal advocated by the AU.
Africans can get a visa on arrival in 24 percent of African countries, yet North Americans, for example, have easier access on the continent, according to a 2017 report on visa openness by the African Development Bank. African Union figures show Africans need visas to travel to 54 percent of the continent.
Free migration of people across the continent would help in talent exchange as well as trade, said Ali Abdi, the Uganda chief of mission at the International Organization for Migration. Countries may have to invest more in border patrols but “the benefits far outweigh the costs, in my view.”
Kenya’s decision is a “good move and it’s progressive,” said Godber Tumushabe with the Uganda-based Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
Change is coming, and not just in East Africa. While visiting Rwanda last year, Benin’s President Patrice Talon said his West African country would no longer require visas for other Africans. He said he was inspired by Rwanda, whose government started issuing visas on arrival to Africans in 2013 and recently announced that in 2018 citizens of all countries will benefit from the policy.
“We are happy that other African countries are opening their borders up for Africans to increase foreign investments,” said Olivier Nduhungirehe, a deputy foreign minister in Rwanda in charge of regional integration. Opening borders will spur economic prosperity for the entire continent, he said.
Some African countries are going visa-free by region first. Weeks ago, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community removed visa requirements for citizens of its six members.
Many African countries rely heavily on tourism for foreign currency. Kenya’s new visa policy was welcomed in a country where the threat by Islamic extremists based in neighboring Somalia has deterred some international travelers.
Offering visas on arrival to all Africans could attract the continent’s small but growing middle class.
“Visa-free travel for Africans into Kenya is a great move by the president and a strategic one for the tourism industry,” said Bobby Kamani, who runs the popular Diani Reef Beach Resort and Spa in the second-largest city, Mombasa. “The president’s bold move couldn’t have come at a better time when the tourism sector has experienced uncertainty and is now on recovery mode.”
Conflict and sharp income disparities in many countries are among other factors slowing the adoption of visa-free policies. Even the African Union passport, launched in July 2016 and given to some heads of state, is yet to be offered to citizens.
Some North African countries, notably Libya, struggle with a flow of impoverished African migrants trying to make their way to Europe. South Africa, one of the continent’s top economies, has seen a sometimes violent backlash against African immigrants amid fears about crime and the taking of jobs. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and another of its strongest economies, maintains visa requirements before arrival for many nations across the continent.
Still, many are hopeful for a borderless Africa and urge those regional leaders to follow Kenya’s lead.
“Is a new wind blowing across #Africa?” Wolfgang Thome, a tourism consultant who once led the Uganda Tourism Association, tweeted. “When will the last walls fall? #Nigeria we are waiting!”Post Views: 813
In a Rigged Court System, Innocent Black People Wait Years for Their Day In Court, Forcing Some to Accept Plea BargainsBy Elliot Booker — 5 years ago
May 14, 2016 | Posted by David Love
Throughout the country, the court system is rigged against poor people and communities of color, and Bronx County in New York City is a most extreme and poignant example of a nationwide crisis.
Although there is a constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial, in practice that guarantee does not extend to those without means, particularly the Black and Latino folks who live in places such as the Bronx — the poorest and Blackest county in New York. These are the people who are arrested and charged with frivolous misdemeanor offenses under a “broken windows” philosophy of policing. And when faced with an under-resourced and broken-down court system, they may wait years for a jury trial — their lives disrupted, their psyche damaged, and often they are compelled to take a plea.
On Wednesday, the Bronx Defenders — a legal advocacy group providing civil and criminal legal services to the indigent — filed a federal class-action lawsuit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo; Janet DiFiore, Chief Judge of the State of New York and Chief Judicial Officer of the Unified Court System; and Lawrence Marks, Chief Administrative Judge of the Unified Court System. The suit, Trowbridge v. Cuomo, filed on behalf of thousands of Bronx residents, claims the state courts are failing to give people their due process and their day in court, making justice an illusion.
The day the lawsuit was filed, Atlanta Black Star spoke with Robin Steinberg, the Executive Director of the Bronx Defenders, on what prompted her organization to take action.
“About three years ago we collaborated with The New York Times on a series on delay in the Bronx … and we hoped that that would bring about some systemic change,” Steinberg said. “What we began to see was not only was there no structural change, the delay problem was getting worse. And in fact, it has gotten worse since The Times did the investigative piece three years ago,” she added. Ultimately, the time had come to do what we need to do, the courts need to come in,” Steinberg said, with the goal to “compel immediate political will” to change the state of the courts in the Bronx.
For the head of the Bronx Defenders, it says a lot that lawyers have to sue the governor and the courts on behalf of their clients because the system is failing.
“It says the clients we represent and the community we represent is one of the most marginalized and overlooked communities in New York City, as is the case across the country. They have very little political power, no access to political power and have been under-utilized and marginalized. This does not happen in the tony community in Manhattan,” Steinberg insists.
The statistics gathered by the plaintiffs paint a picture of a serious epidemic of disparities. As of January 2016, there were 2,378 misdemeanor cases pending for over 365 days in the Bronx, and 538 cases pending for over two years. Last year, although there were 45,000 misdemeanor arraignments, there were a mere 98 misdemeanor trials. And for those select few who get a trial, they must wait 642 days on average for a non-jury bench trial, and 827 days for a trial by jury, which is 99 percent higher than in Manhattan, 66 percent higher than in Brooklyn and 48 percent higher than in Queens.
Meanwhile, under New York’s speedy trial statute, prosecutors are required to be ready for trial within 90 days of arraignment for class A misdemeanors (such as assault, theft and drug possession), 60 days for class B misdemeanors (such as harassment, marijuana possession and stalking), and 30 days for non-criminal violations.
“You have to wait 99 percent longer in the Bronx. You wait longer in the Bronx than any other borough…It speaks to how we resource certain communities and under-resource others,” Steinberg noted. “This has been a known secret for years, and we hope to compel some change.”
Moreover, there are human faces behind these numbers, with a heavy toll taken in terms of lost jobs, frayed relationships and damaged well-being. This is the tax levied on the poor and on people of color. For example, John Carridice suffered through 1,009 days and 20 court dates before he had a trial and was acquitted. Sarah Bello endured 1,166 days and 33 court dates before her charges were thrown out. Joseph Bermudez was also acquitted, but only after 1,258 days and 38 court dates. On at least 16 occasions, both parties were ready for trial, but no court rooms were available.
Michael Torres, 43, had to appear in court 14 times for misdemeanor marijuana possession, typically waiting up to six hours at a time. As a result of numerous absences from work, he was fired. Although his case was dismissed after 877 days because the arresting officer could not recollect the incident, for this father of two, the damage had been done.
“After waiting all that time, I wasn’t even able to have my day in court,” said Torres. “I did everything I was supposed to do, but the system failed me – I joined this case because I want to ensure this doesn’t happen to others.”
One of the devastating effects of the epidemic of court delays is that people are forced to enter into plea agreements to make the case go away. According to The New York Times, 97 percent of federal cases and 94 percent of state cases end in plea bargains. The implications are that the courts are not used for the adjudication of cases and deciding who is guilty or innocent, but for deal making. Rather, the courts become what the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and others refer to as a “McJustice” system — one which operates based on the assembly line principles of a fast-food restaurant. For the indigent it means there is a premium placed on expediency over high-quality treatment.
“The truth is that what happens when you have this kind of delay is people end up with an unconscionable choice to come back in to court every month for 833 days — which is a form of punishment — or plead guilty. There is no way to end this punishment unless you plead guilty,” Steinberg said. “Clients continually miss work, miss childcare, miss appointments. It is the system’s best way to extract a guilty plea.”
The Bronx Defender chief shared that when public defenders advocate to their client to stick it out longer and wait, their clients — faced with the torture of court delays — have a right to take the plea, and often do.
Although this lawsuit is about the Bronx courts, and by extension the state of New York, this is a case with national implications. There are other jurisdictions like the Bronx. For example, in downstate Illinois, which does not include the Chicago area, 56 percent of pending misdemeanor cases were over a year old as of 2014, according to the Bronx Defenders. In North Carolina, 16.5 percent of all pending misdemeanor cases were over a year old, while 7.7 percent were older than 731 days, according to the state’s 2014-2015 Judicial Report. Moreover, even in a state with a better track record such as Wisconsin, 19 percent of misdemeanor cases are pending more than 180 days, with 95 percent of the cases taking 360 days before resolution. The state guidelines say that only 5 percent should be pending for that long.
“People need to keep their eyes on this because it is a national problem,” Steinberg emphasized. “People need to pay attention and defenders need to pay attention because our clients’ lives are deeply impacted,” and their humanity is not being acknowledged, she argued.
It is no accident that the Bronx is the poorest borough of New York City and the poorest county in New York state. Further, the South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the entire nation, according to the U.S. Census, with 38 percent of people living below the poverty line, including 49 percent of children. Bronx also has the highest proportion of people of color of any county in the state, with a population that is 43 percent Black and 55 percent Latino, with whites accounting for 10 percent of the county, according to the most recent Census figures. Not surprisingly, 95 percent of Bronx misdemeanor arraignments involve people of color, the highest percentage in the city.
Meanwhile, those poor and Black people who are subjected to a dysfunctional and unresponsive court system are the ones facing the massive and frivolous arrests, heavy-handed monitoring and racial profiling by the police. In recent years, the New York City Police Department has come under fire for a stop-and-frisk policy that has ensnared hundreds of thousands of city residents, typically Black and Latino young men. As a lawsuit filed against the NYPD by the Center for Constitutional Rights revealed, 85 percent of those targeted by these “suspicionless and racially pretextual stop and frisks” are Black and Latino, who make up 52 percent of the city’s population. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, more than 4 million New Yorkers have been subjected to police stops and interrogations since 2002, with nine of 10 people being completely innocent.
Ultimately, Steinberg believes this is an issue that will resonate among the public, even among those who are far removed from the court system.
“People will be shocked by this. It is something that is relatable — even if you aren’t touched by the criminal justice system and live in an affluent white community — because it is such a basic issue of a right to a trial,” she said.
“If I have to go to the department of motor vehicles for one day I am outraged,” Steinberg offered. “Imagine if you have to go every day for three-and-a-half years. You see this playing out as people struggle to keep their heads above water. They’re living with the economic and psychological toll of this hanging on their heads.”Post Views: 703