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OP-ED: There’s a ‘Ferguson’ near you

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Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American male in suburban Ferguson, Missouri, who had just graduated from high school and planned to start college, has joined a long line of Blacks, especially Black males, who have recently been gunned down, wrestled down and killed by white men and/or white police officers who claim “reasonable fear” or “self-defense” as their defense.

However, Chicago has experienced a rash of young Blacks in gangs killing each other over “territory” or in “retaliation,” so it’s not just whites killing young Black males.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, held a sign reading: “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son!!!”

Police report that Brown shoved the officer into his car, tried to take his gun and a shot was fired. Obviously, there are conflicting reports so it’s premature to come to conclusions, but a full federal investigation into what happened is essential.

I understand the community’s anger, and protests are legitimate and in order, but Michael Brown’s family said things should not be made worse with looting and vandalism. That will only cloud the real issues, will not bring Michael Brown back and will not facilitate justice.

How could this happen in suburban Ferguson, Missouri? Many African Americans who grew up in St. Louis, got a good education, secured good jobs at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) or elsewhere, and are better off economically, moved into various suburban communities in North St. Louis County — Normandy, Florrisant, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Jennings, Berkeley (home of Cedric the Entertainer), Dellwood and elsewhere.

Ferguson is a suburban community of about 21,000 that has changed from a majority white to a 70 percent African American community. Congressman Lacy Clay represents it.

I know some of the families there, including two white families.

This is a hard working, church going and middle-to-working class community with families struggling economically to keep their heads above water. There is also a smaller but growing poor community in Ferguson. It reflects what’s happening in America generally.

When journalists and politicians speak of a dwindling middle class that’s under economic assault and a poor community that’s getting bigger, they’re talking about Ferguson. Independent of the racial demographics and dynamics of Ferguson, Missouri, there’s a “Ferguson” near you.

Since President Lyndon Johnson, there has been no significant urban, suburban, small town or rural policy to rebuild America. Thus we should not be surprised that urban and rural communities, and all points in between, have significantly deteriorated during the past 46 years of neglect.

Republicans are the party of “no” and Democrats are the party of “don’t know” because it hasn’t fought for bold ideas, policies or plans to turn us in a new direction. Policies of community development are being replaced with policies of community containment. The absence of a domestic Marshall Plan is being replaced with martial law.

Here’s America today: high unemployment and low graduation rates result in guns and drugs in and jobs out; hospitals and public schools closing; gym, art, music and trade skills taken out of our public schools; inadequate investments being made in our infrastructure with roads crumbling, bridges falling down and an outdated public transportation system; a failure to address climate change;

Denial of capital investment for entrepreneurs; abandoned homes and vacant lots; a lack of youth recreational opportunities; frivolous entertainment, texting and Twitter replacing serious news reporting, reading, writing and arithmetic; a cutback in funding and a denial of equal opportunity in public jobs such as for teachers, policemen and firemen; all of which leads to hopelessness, despair and cynicism.

Many are observing Ferguson and witnessing the anger, demonstrations, looting and vandalism and calling for quiet. But quiet isn’t enough. The absence of noise isn’t the presence of justice — and we must demand justice in Ferguson and the other “Fergusons” around America.

Too many Americans have adjusted to injustice and inequality. But injustice and inequality anywhere is a threat to justice and equality everywhere.

To allow injustice and inequality invites a Ferguson to your community. We must stand together, Black, white, brown, red, and yellow and fight for justice and equality for all. It’s the only way to avoid more Fergusons.

 

Crime

Congress Begins Hearing on January 6 Capitol Riot

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

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USA Today Newpaper Photo Courtesy of Little Plant via Unplash

A congressional panel investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol Building began hearings this week, starting with testimony from Capitol police officers who were on scene that day. Televised on several networks, officers shared emotional testimony about being assaulted, tased, struggling to breathe, and more as they sought to prevent rioters from running over the Capitol building.

Officers also shared feelings of betrayal from Republican lawmakers who have downplayed or even denied the violence that occurred on January 6. “I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officer Michael Fanone testified. “Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”  The MPD are the police for Wash., D.C.

Lawmakers were emotional as video from the riot was replayed. “The main reason rioters didn’t harm any members of Congress was because they didn’t encounter any members of Congress,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), thanking the officers for their service. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) who has repeatedly broken with her Republican colleagues to condemn the riot, also said she had “deep gratitude for what you did to save us.”

This week’s hearing represents the first official Congressional probe into how the incredible breach occurred on January 6, and political tensions surrounding the riot have only flared since then. Republicans have sought to evade any meaningful probe of what took place, but Congress started work to get to the bottom of it this week.

Fanone, who rushed to the scene to assist, told the panel he was “grabbed, beaten, tased, all while being called a traitor to my country.” He suffered a heart attack following the assault. Daniel Hodges, also a DC officer, described foaming at the mouth while rioters crushed his body between doors and beat him in the head with his own weapon. He said there was “no doubt in my mind” that the rioters were there to kill Congressmembers. Another officer, USCP officer Harry Dunn, said a group of rioters screamed the N-word at him as he tried to keep them out of the House chambers. When the day had ended, he said, he sat in the Capitol Rotunda and cried.

Rioters stormed the Capitol Building on January 6 to prevent the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Then-President Donald Trump had egged on supporters to march on the capitol to “defend their country.”

Video showed rioters breaking windows and climbing through doors to get into the Capitol Building and, once inside, into the House Chambers where Congress members were conducting business. The head of the Capitol Police resigned the next day. Dozens of rioters have been charged in federal court, oftentimes using pictures and videos that they had posted themselves on social media. Others were reported to police by friends, relatives, or co-workers who recognized them in pictures and videos.

Earlier this week, lawmakers said they had reached a deal on a $2 billion spending package that would add more security resources. USCP officials have said they have long been spread thin due to a lack of funding.

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Commentary

Community Responds to OPD Chief’s Call for Help in Stopping Violence

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.    

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stop gun violence sign photo courtesy Chip Vincent via Unsplash

Seventy-five.

That’s the number of homicides that have occurred so far this year here in Oakland.  There have also been at least 300 acts of violence injuries perpetrated against the citizens of Oakland, many of them gun related.

Oakland Chief of Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong has reached out to the community asking for support, and rightfully so.  For this is not just an Oakland Police Department fight but our fight.

Those 75 families who lost loved ones to senseless acts of reckless violence are families from our communities. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers, and our friends.

The word of God reminds us to “Love our Neighbor as we love ourselves.” The Bible compels us to want the best and do the best for one another.

What would you want if one of your family members were one of those 75 who had been shot and killed in the streets of Oakland? What would you want?

The answer is simple.

You would want someone to care!  To shout with outrage and do something to end this cycle of violence!

On July 27, a group of community activists met with Armstrong to discuss how they could come together organizing in a city-wide community coalition to bring holistic ideas to create a wrap-around approach to combating violence. Those ideas include a) mental wellness, b) community chaplaincy, c) ask the formerly incarcerated to mentor and encourage youth in crisis, d) job development, e) entrepreneurship opportunities, and – last but not least — address our ever-growing homeless issues.

For more information on how you can be a good neighbor, please call 510-688-7437

All for the Peace — “Shalom” — of our Great City.

Pastor Scott is the president of Pastors of Oakland and leader of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries.

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Community

Gov. Newsom Joins Assemblyman, Others in Renewed Fight Against Shoplifting

Newsom disputes the current wave of retail theft issue is related to Prop. 47, claiming that the measure is an “easy scapegoat” for people who are against criminal justice reform.

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Press conference: Assembly member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr. (D-Los Angeles) stands with Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 331.

Gov. Gavin Newsom joined top law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and local officials in Los Angeles County on July 21 for a press conference to discuss rising violence and retail theft in California.

“Among the most basic needs for all Californians is to feel safe at home, at the park or walking to school,” Newsom said. “As we pursue nation-leading criminal justice reforms – all with an eye to making our communities safer – a more holistic approach is called for. We must invest in public safety while, at the same time, tackling the root causes of these increases.”

Newsom also promoted his efforts to try to deter gun violence, including mental health services and after-school programs.

“We need to see more accountability, we need to see enforcement and we need a commensurate commitment to address the reforms that I think many of us behind me embrace and have long embraced in California that have proven successful in this state,” Newsom said.

At the press conference, Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 331, which includes measures designed to crack down on organized retail theft by expanding the California Highway Patrol’s shoplifting task force.

According to Newsom, the task force conducted nearly 700 investigations which have led to 252 arrests and the recovery of $16.3 million in merchandise statewide since 2019.

The signing of this bill occurs as incidences of organized retail theft is rising in California’s major metropolitan areas.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), the author of AB 331, spoke briefly about how it came about.

“We want to make sure we actually went after the organized retail theft felons who were victimizing not the only the people that they got involved in this but also victimizing our businesses and retails,” he said.

“This governor has also put in billions of dollars to make sure that those individuals can move into services such as drug rehab, education and employment so that they can permanently, permanently, get out of organized retail theft because that’s the ultimate goal here,” Jones-Sawyer continued.

Newsom acknowledged the growing public concern.

“Bottom line, at the end of the day, as members of the public you expect us to resolve, to address these issues,” he said.

“You expect all of us, regardless of your political stripes, regardless of geography, you expect all of us to respect you, you expect to feel some kind of connection to your community and you all expect, appropriately so, to be protected,” Newsom also said.

Some retailers and lawmakers believe that Proposition 47, a ballot measure California voters approved in 2014 that raised the minimum dollar amount for felony shoplifting from $450 to $950, is partially to blame for the spike in retail theft.  The measure reclassified many of the state’s nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.

One critic is Sen. Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) who suggested Newsom’s signing this bill was political theater to make up for Prop. 47 and avoid a recall.

“In typical Newsom fashion, the Governor is patting himself on the back for attempting to fix a problem he not only breathlessly endorsed, but helped create,” tweeted Melendez on Wednesday, July 21.

Newsom disputes the current wave of retail theft issue is related to Prop. 47, claiming that the measure is an “easy scapegoat” for people who are against criminal justice reform.

“The evidence doesn’t back it up. The last three decades we’ve actually seen a significant decline in crime in the state. You’re seeing crime increase in red states that have no criminal reform,” Newsom told Fox News 11 in Los Angeles.

Newsom’s statement  is backed up by U.S. Department of Justice data that concludes “laws and policies designed to deter crime by focusing mainly on increasing the severity of punishment are ineffective partly because criminals know little about the sanctions for specific crimes.”

Newsom asserted that this has been a continual effort. He has led on policy efforts that have closed a number of California state prisons, halted the death penalty and eliminated cash bail for people who can’t afford it.

“This is not new in the state of California as the Assemblymember noted.      We’ve been organized in a very deliberative manner to address the issue of organized retail crime for a number of years. We are doubling down on those efforts today with this bill that I’ll be signing here in a moment,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s closing remarks attempted to strike the balance between accountability and mercy.

“We need to hold folks to account but we’ll do it in a thoughtful and judicious way, we’re not going back to the way things were in the ’80s and ’90s. At least not while I’m here,” Newsom said.

“We’re not going to back out on our commitment to reform, at the same time, we’re not going to walk away from accountability either,” he concluded.

California Black Media’s coverage of the Governor’s Office public health efforts is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

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