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Baltimore is Not Ferguson

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George-E.-Curry

By George E. Curry
NNPA Columnist

 

Baltimore is not Ferguson. That was evident by opposite official reactions to the death of an unarmed African American male killed at the hands of local police in the respective cities. At the time of Michael Brown’s death last year in Ferguson, Mo., the city with a two-thirds Black majority was governed by a White mayor and a White city manager, had only one Black on the 6-member city council, and had a White police chief who directed a department that was 94 percent White. Equally telling, less than 12 percent of voters turned out to cast a ballot in 2014.

Though also predominantly Black – 63.7 percent – Baltimore has a Black mayor, police commissioner, state’s attorney and president of a city council that is 60 percent African American. The police force is 48 percent Black.

After the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch mangled his grand jury presentation – perhaps deliberately – that resulted in the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, the White officer who fatally shot Michael Brown.

As the New York Times pointed out, the St. Louis County Prosecutor strayed from customary behavior by, among other things:

• Convening the grand jury for 25 days over three months instead of the usual one;
• Calling 60 witnesses, possibly confusing jurors, instead of only a few that are usually called;
• Allowing Wilson to testify for four hours, without being cross-examined, though most potential defendants do not usually testify before a grand jury and
• Taking the unusual step of not making a recommendation to the grand jury.

So, no one was surprised that the jury of nine Whites and three Blacks voted not to indict Darren Wilson.

In Baltimore, things were different. First, voters had ousted the incumbent state attorney by electing Marilyn J. Mosby over Gregg L. Bernstein in the Democratic primary. Though on the job less than four months, the 35-year-old Mosby made the courageous decision to charge six Baltimore police officers with crimes that included murder and manslaughter instead of conveniently shifting that responsibility to a grand jury.

Mosby made her decision several hours after receiving the medical examiner’s report that concluded that Gray’s death was a homicide.

At a news conference, she said: “The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide that we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.”

She also said, “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”

Shortly after Mosby announced her decision, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, also an African American, said she was “sickened and heartbroken” by the charges outlined by Mosby. She said, “To those of you who want to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear: There is no place for you in the Baltimore City Police Department.”

The fact that Rawlings-Blake and Mosby were in a position to act boldly was possible only because Black voters put them in office. You can’t reasonably hope for that kind of outcome when only 12 percent of the voters turn out for an election, which was the case in Ferguson.

But don’t get it twisted: Having Blacks in office or voting in large numbers do not guarantee justice will be done. Blacks vote in respectable numbers in New York City yet the White officer, David Pantaleo, was never prosecuted in the choking death of Eric Garner.

In Baltimore, the state’s attorney’s investigation revealed that many of the early assertions made by the police department, under the supervision of Black Police Commissioner Anthony Batts were inaccurate. Even worse, of the six officers charged, three of them – Sgt. Alicia White and Officers William Porter and Caesar Goodson, Jr. – are African American.

Goodson faces the most serious charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He was driving the van that transported Gray and was accused of not placing the suspect in a seatbelt for his safety.

Porter was told twice that Gray was in need of a medic, but never called one, according to the prosecutor. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and other charges. White arrived on the scene after Gray had been placed in the police van. But she, too, was accused of failing to summon a medic. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

The other officers – Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice – were charged with, among other things, second-degree assault.

Clearly, having Blacks in key positions is no guarantee that justice will be served. But it certainly increases the odds of that happening, as we have seen in Baltimore.

 

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.

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Activism

Greater Justice is Coming: Taking on Abusive and Deadly Policing with New DOJ Leadership

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta

Thanks to the voters who elected President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we now have a Department of Justice that actually cares about justice.

And I am not just talking about justice as an idea. I am talking about a Department of Justice that is willing to take on abusive policing and law enforcement agencies that are corrupted by racism.

In his first month on the job, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reversed a Trump-era policy that made it harder for the Justice Department to investigate police departments and hold them accountable for violating people’s civil rights.

And he was just getting started. In the past few weeks, the Justice Department has announced that it is starting an investigation of the police departments in Minneapolis—where George Floyd was murdered by former officer Derek Chauvin while other officers watched. The Minnesota AFL-CIO has called the city’s police union a white supremacist-led organization.

The Justice Department has also launched an investigation of policing practices in Louisville, where Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own home.

These investigations will look at more than those individual killings. This kind of “patterns and practices” investigation looks at the big picture to determine whether and how a law enforcement agency is violating people’s civil rights. They are a way to evaluate—and do something about—the impact that systemic racism has in a police department and the communities it is supposed to serve.

“Patterns and practices” investigations can lead to consent decrees — agreements that require police departments to change the way they operate, with oversight from the Justice Department to make sure change actually happens.

In the past, Justice Department investigations and consent decrees have been important tools for getting violent police behavior under control and changing abusive cultures in out-of-control departments.

When the Trump Administration shut down this kind of investigation, it sent a signal to police departments that the Justice Department would look the other way rather than hold them responsible for misconduct. Of course, Trump himself repeatedly made it clear that he was not opposed to violent policing. In fact, he encouraged it.

Biden has spoken personally about the importance of ending police violence and reimagining public safety. He has called on Congress to pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Another good sign was the announcement that the FBI is doing a civil rights investigation of the killing of Andrew Brown, Jr., who was shot in the back of the head by police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

All of these are important steps in protecting Americans, especially Black Americans, from abusive policing.

Biden has also spoken out against Republicans’ racist efforts to pass new voting restrictions in states all over the country. Biden has called those efforts “sick” and we can count on his Justice Department to do what they can to challenge voter suppression—even though right-wing justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have greatly weakened the tools that the Voting Rights Act gave the department to prevent Black voters from having their rights denied.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has just written the Arizona Senate president to raise concerns that a bogus “audit” of ballots from last year’s presidential election that is being conducted by private contractors from the so-called “Stop the Steal” movement could be violating the Voting Rights Act.

There are more signs that we can expect changes at the Justice Department. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate, started her career as a civil rights attorney by winning freedom for dozens of mostly Black people wrongly jailed in a small Texas town.   And the Senate should soon confirm Kristen Clarke to head the civil rights division, where she started her legal career investigating police conduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking.

Together with Biden and Garland, Gupta and Clarke will save lives, defend civil rights, and give millions of Americans hope that greater justice is coming.

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Bay Area

Asian/Black Relations Can Get Better Together During Heritage Month

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

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Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

President Joe Biden has given May a new name. It’s no longer Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Obama in 2009.  And it’s definitely not Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, as proclaimed by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month, as proclaimed by Biden on the last day of April this year. 

That’s our new umbrella. A big one, incorporating everyone. From the East Bay’s Rocky Johnson, the father of Dwayne the Rock, an African American/Samoan American. To Vallejo’s Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson, a/k/a H.E.R., the African American Filipino of Grammy- Oscar-winning- songs fame.

Despite how huge the umbrella is incorporating more than 23 million people from more than 20 countries of origin, we are all American. And we’re the fastest-growing group in the nation, set to double in size, overtake the Latinx population and, with 46 million people, become the largest ethnic group in America by 2060. 

And so we’ve come to expect people seeking to divide us up. During a Zoom conference of attorneys general last week, a member of the audience had a question. “There seems to be an emphasis on attributing anti-Asian violence to white people,” said a white male to the panel. “And I’m just wondering if it is healthy to do that, or an effort to do that…when in some incidents, the attacks were committed by non-white people.”

Essentially, the man was saying, “Don’t blame white people,” implying that Blacks have often been perps in some high profile crimes against Asians. 

But it seemed more like a question to drive a wedge to break up our solidarity.

Fortunately, civil rights activists John Yang knew exactly how to answer that one. 

“Yes, there have been attacks on Asian Americans by people that are not white, no question about that,” he said. “But I would ask everyone to be really, really careful about what the actual statistics are, because the statistics show that the predominant number of people attacking Asians are Caucasian.” Then he referred to some high-profile cases in the Bay Area where Blacks attacked elderly Asians, once again pointing out it was the exception, not the norm.

It was the right response to avoid creating divisiveness and to let everyone know that the only way to end racism is to fight it together.

But he also said something that rang true to most Asian Americans. 

“Let’s be clear, there (are) elements of anti-Blackness in the Asian American community, that we do need to unlearn as well,” he said. Then he made it personal. “And that’s something that I’m going to call out on myself, and in our community, and we would ask everyone to do the same thing as we’re all learning together.”

It was a rare candid public moment that unveiled a sense of friction between Asian and Black communities that has existed since the days I wrote op-ed pieces in the 1990s in the Tribune. 

Heritage months are ways to benchmark our progress and see what urgently needs to be done now. 

Like the speaker said, a lot of it involves calling out where we have fallen short of the ideal.

That’s what Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month is really for—to learn the good, and unlearn the bad, together. 

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Featured

Chauvin Is Guilty. Our Work Is Cut Out for Us.

Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price
Just a few days have passed since Derek Chauvin’s conviction in the murder of George Floyd. But the images from that moment are seared in our memories forever: the murderer, led away in handcuffs. The Floyd family, Philonise Floyd speaking through tears, at the microphones after the verdict. The crowds outside the courthouse erupting in cheers when the verdict was read.
Our gratitude for this measure of accountability is soul-deep. And now we ask ourselves, will things really be different this time? The answer is that they can be, if we seize this moment.
Washington has sent encouraging signs that it is serious about addressing police violence and systemic racism. Congress should pass the imperfect but important George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The Justice Department is forging ahead with investigations of police departments in Minneapolis and Louisville, and the shooting of Anthony Brown in North Carolina.
We have work to do in our own neighborhoods, too.
Policing is a local function, controlled by city, county and state governments. These governments answer directly to us, the citizens. And there is a lot we can do to insist on change.
One of the most inspiring examples today is in Ithaca, New York, a college town led by a dynamic young Black mayor. There, Mayor Svante Myrick and the city council approved a plan to do away with their traditional police department and replace it with a new Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety, in which some personnel would carry weapons – and, importantly, some would not.
Instead, unarmed social workers would respond to the many calls in which an armed response is unnecessary and even dangerous. The new department will have a civilian supervisor. It will focus on de-escalating situations in which people are at risk, and restoring trust among the city’s communities of color, homeless residents, LGBTQ residents and residents with disabilities.
The plan came together with input from local residents as well as city and county officials. It is the kind of innovative thinking we want in communities across the nation, and the energy around the Chauvin trial helped get it over the finish line.
We all can harness that energy where we live. Our year of speaking out and taking to the streets will serve us well; we can organize, and demonstrate, and show up in the places where local lawmakers meet to do their work. We can contact our local representatives directly; they might live next door or down the street.
And while the task of changing thousands of police departments, one by one, seems huge, think of this: more than half of Black Americans live in 25 metropolitan areas. We can get serious about saving Black lives by starting in those metro areas. And we can build a movement that inspires others to act.
One of the most emotional moments after George Floyd’s murder last year came when his daughter Gianna, then six, said, “Daddy changed the world.” If we want her to be right in the long run, we can do our part to make her words come true. And each of us can start right here at home.

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