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Op-Ed

To Be Equal: Baltimore Rising — Women Leading Fight for Justice

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By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 

“Wherever there has been struggle, black women have been identified with that struggle.” – Ella Baker, “The Black Woman in the Civil Rights Struggle,” 1969

Marilyn Mosby was sworn into office as Maryland state’s attorney for Baltimore city in January of this year at the Baltimore War Memorial Plaza building. Before unseating the incumbent, Gregg Bernstein, for the job, the 35-year-old had never held an elected office.

Five months later, the city’s newly-minted, top prosecutor—the youngest chief prosecutor in any major American city—returned to the steps of the War Memorial Plaza to announce charges, including murder, manslaughter and assault, against six police officers in the unwarranted death of Freddie Gray—simultaneously emerging into the national spotlight as an advocate for those demanding police accountability and an adversary for those who would protect the status quo.

On the night of her swearing in, Mosby was joined by a host of dignitaries, including her husband, Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby—who represents the West Baltimore area that has been the backdrop to the protests over Gray’s death—along with her two daughters. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also sat among the evening’s guests and, in a speech, advised Mosby that, “Public service is not just a job, it’s a calling and it is a privilege.”

Mosby’s calling to public service was born of tragedy and tradition. When Mosby was 14, her 17-year-old cousin was mistaken for a drug dealer and shot and killed near her home. She often credits her cousin’s murder as the reason why she decided to become a prosecutor.

She also comes from a five-generation long line of law enforcement officials. Both of her parents, an aunt, four uncles and her grandfather—who was a founding member of the first association of Black police officers in her hometown of Massachusetts—were police officers.

Growing up in a family of cops, Mosby knows the good, good police officers can do in our communities. She indicted six police officers, not an entire force. Her actions are not anti-cop; they are pro-police and law enforcement accountability. She assured the public—and the nation—that her administration is, “committed to creating a fair and equitable justice system for all. No matter what your occupation, your age, your race, your color or your creed.”

Like any major American city, Baltimore has its assets and its challenges. Its mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has been at the frontline, grappling with the deeply entrenched challenges of the city left in her charge since replacing a former mayor, who resigned under charges of corruption, then being elected to her first full term as mayor in 2011. She has been touched by the almost inescapable violence that stems from these challenges when in 2002, she found her brother covered in blood and nearly decapitated by a sword that was used during a carjacking in front of her house.

In her 2014 State of Black America® essay, Mayor Rawlings-Blake painted a bleak picture, noting that in Baltimore city, more than 1 in 5 African-American adult residents live in poverty, while 1 in every 3 African-American children and teens are also living in poverty. She warned that, “Poverty is a deep-rooted ill, permeated with inequity, and it will take a focused, concerted assault on all fronts to excise it. We must think outside the box, and be bold as we confront the challenges that lie in our path. I am committed to the fight.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake—the daughter of the legendary Howard “Pete” Rawlings, the first African American to become chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates—has made her name on the national stage. She is only one of two Black female mayors of the 100 largest cities in the country. She currently serves as secretary of the Democratic National Committee and is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

But she is grabbing our attention today, not for her impressive resume, but for her unflagging commitment to “the fight” in Baltimore for equality and justice. As she promised in a recent press conference, “As mayor, I will be relentless in changing the culture of the police department to ensure that everyone in our city is treated equally under the law.”

Now that the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray have been charged, the prosecutor’s office will present its case to a city grand jury that will consider the charges and decide whether to indict. At the same time, the Department of Justice—now being led by another African-American woman, Loretta Lynch—is also conducting an investigation into the case and into the Baltimore Police Department.

I applaud these women, and all women—and men—who are fighting for justice for Freddie and, by extension, for us. I applaud these leaders as they claim their place in the pantheon of Black female fighters who have traditionally played a key role in our nation’s struggle for equality and justice—for all.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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Bay Area

GETTING TO YES 

BAYSIDE BALL PARK OR WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT

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Howard Terminal Courtesy Port of Oakland website

Arguably, development of Howard’s Terminal has been in the making for long time.  According to Councilmember Gallo, Oakland’s previous city officials Robert Bobb and Jerry Brown entertained development of Howard’s Terminal, for the Fishers and A’s, during their tenure as city manager and mayor respectively. 

Let’s be clear, the A’s initially pitched its development project at Howard’s Terminal as a Bayside Baseball Stadium, when in essence its project goal has always been a major condominium-housing and business development, along Oakland’s waterfront … the stadium was then and is now just the shinny thing.  Many argue the Coliseum site is more suited for a new stadium development, if that’s really what the A’s want. 

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Oakland City Council held a special meeting to consider the Oakland A’s proposal submitted in April 2021; the A’s pressed Council for this special meeting so as to give the A’s an up or down vote on their proposal.  Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, not to support the A’s proposal as submitted.  Council did agree, however, to support the A’s project proposal with certain City amendments.   

Oakland City Council considered their vote to be a big win for Oakland.  On the other hand, A’s President, Dave Kaval, called the City Council’s vote “a swing and a miss.” Based upon the complexity of the pending issues, it appears more time – extended ending – will be necessary for both sides to get to a mutually beneficial yes. 

According to the A’s Kaval, progress has been made in negotiations but, the plan Council voted for on Tuesday “is not a business partnership that works for [A’s] us.”   Moreover, Kaval claims the A’s had not seen some of the amendments Oakland city staff presented to the City Council Tuesday morning before the council’s vote. 

Council-member Rebecca Kaplan said the City Council’s amendments addressed the A’s biggest concern, having to pay for offsite transportation, and infrastructure improvements. However, the A’s still could not agree with the city’s overall offer.   

 Also, the A’s waterfront development project proposal includes some 3000 units of condominium-housing, but the A’s proposal ignored adequate provisions for affordable housing.  The A’s wants the City to waive the A’s legal requirement to provide for affordable housing.  Oakland’s City Council determined that fact to a major sticking point. 

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who worked on the amendments with Vice Mayor Kaplan, said, “It’s (now) at the beginning of the eighth inning.”  As a matter of fact, Council advised the A’s to use Council’s just approved amended Term-Sheet as a road map for further negotiations. 

Following the City Council meeting, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the City and A’s are very close to an agreement, but Kaval said “in some ways it’s too early to say how close the two sides are.”  

Kaval expressed hope that the A’s can get the City Council vote on some terms his team could agree on before Council’s summer recess.  Council President Bas’, office said no council meetings are scheduled before the recess to further negotiate the A’s new waterfront proposal.  

 Negotiation between Oakland’s City Council and the Oakland A’s appears to be headed for extra innings.  The complexity of the issues and public reactions, after Tuesday’s Council vote, gives many citizens cause to pause and wonder if we are at the end of the seventh inning stretch or the bottom of the ninth; either way, getting to a mutually beneficial yes will require a walk-off hit. 

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Activism

Formerly Incarcerated Can Help Bring Peace to the Streets

This wave of violence is very brutal but not new. And unless there is a miracle from our most high God, this violence won’t be eliminated.

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The uptick in violence and discord that we see permeating the Bay Area is also occurring nationwide.  It seems that we are entering a state of vindictive racial, cultural and religious chaos that is affecting all segments of our society.

This wave of violence is very brutal but not new. And unless there is a miracle from our most high God, this violence won’t be eliminated.

But we, by working together in harmony, can do something to develop pathways towards quelling the violence.

Through collective effort we can design an approach that focuses on the causes of these random acts of violence.

As we address the root causes of this daily increase of violence in our community, we will discover that it can be attributed to a variety of reasons which include acts of domestic violence, turf struggles and revengeful acts by some gangs, some rogue activity by a few police officers along with many other senseless racially motivated crimes toward Asians, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans.

To help find solutions to some of this frightening violence we must conduct an extensive outreach to our neighborhood and community groups, civil rights groups, churches and non-profit organizations to find knowledgeable persons who also have extensive experience in the streets of Oakland.

I responded to a challenge from Paul Cobb, the publisher of the Oakland Post, to utilize the network of the readers of my column to solicit solutions to crime and violence. Mr. Cobb and his wife, Gay, attended my graduation while I was in San Quentin and they told me to use my voice to help bring peace and healing to Oakland. 

When I heard that he, along with the Pastors of Oakland and several groups such as the NAACP, Chinatown and the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce had called for peace and unity at Chief Leronne Armstrong’s rally, I accepted his challenge to do outreach to members of the formerly incarcerated community.

I participated in a meeting with the formerly incarcerated and asked them to join with me to meet with Armstrong and any other official who want to employ solutions to the root causes of violence.

Some of the formerly incarcerated who were once complicit in carnage and destructive actions now say they truly understand why they must use their stories to help bring peace to our communities. 

More importantly, they know the ways of the streets and they know how to communicate with and are not fearful of the youth and others who are involved directly and indirectly in destructive acts.

They know they won’t be able to curb the violence in its entirety, but they have clearer insights as to why and what methods or solutions should be employed.

Many of the formerly incarcerated individuals who I have talked to want the media, the police department and our elected leaders to use their power to provide resources to help them bring peace to our community.

Under the auspices of “R.O.C.S.” (Restore Our Community Services), the formerly incarcerated want to work with the churches and other people of power and influence to bring positive approaches so we can witness some positive more peaceful results.

Let’s not allow violence to become the universal panacea for everything that is wrong within our minds. Violence can’t be allowed to replace the practice of civility. Let’s also use community diplomacy to resolve our differences.

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Commentary

Texas Democrats Are Getting into ‘Good Trouble’

Here’s why dozens of Texas lawmakers are in Washington, D.C. this week.

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Person casting vote/Unseen Histories via Unsplash

One year after the death of the great civil rights icon John Lewis, a group of Texas Democratic lawmakers is following Lewis’s lifelong call for people to make “good trouble” and “necessary trouble” to secure equality and justice for all. 

Congressional Democrats should bring the same level of commitment to resisting and overturning a new wave of voting restrictions that voting rights activist Stacey Abrams has labeled “Jim Crow 2.0.”

Here’s why dozens of Texas lawmakers are in Washington, D.C. this week.

Texas is the latest Republican-run state where legislators and the governor are trying to impose new voting restrictions—banning drive-through and 24-hour early voting, restricting distribution of absentee ballots, imposing new voter ID provisions—that they hope will make it harder for Democrats to win future elections. Their voter suppression laws are aimed at Black and Brown voters and others more likely to support Democratic candidates.

Republican officials are also trying to make former President Donald Trump happy by giving credibility to his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him. They’re using his lies about “election fraud” and “election integrity” to justify new restrictive voting rules.

In Texas, Republicans control the state House and Senate. And hard-right Gov. Gregg Abbott is eager to do Trump’s bidding. Back in May, Texas Republicans tried to push their election bill through the House just before the close of the legislative session. 

Because the Texas House is required to have two-thirds of its members present to conduct official business, Democratic legislators stopped the bill from passing by walking out of the chamber.

But Abbott is so set on getting his new voting law that he ordered legislators to come back into session this month to push it through. To prevent the state’s Republicans from forcing new voting restrictions into law, more than 50 Democratic legislators left the state.

Abbott and Republican Senate leaders have threatened lawmakers with arrest to try to force them to attend the session. And he has said he will keep calling special sessions until he gets his way. That’s why the Texas legislators came to Wash., D.C. They brought an urgent message to members of Congress: the only way to protect voters from voter suppression at the state level is to pass national voting rights legislation.

The House of Representatives has previously passed the For the People Act, which would reverse many new voting restrictions and includes several priorities specifically outlined by John Lewis during his lifetime, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would help prevent future voter suppression efforts from taking effect.

Both are essential to protect democracy and voting rights. But right now, U.S. Senate Republicans are using the filibuster to block the For the People Act, and they could do the same to the VRA.

President Joe Biden has just made a strong speech in defense of voting rights. He denounced new voter suppression efforts. And he called for the Senate to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

I am grateful that President Biden has called attention to the urgent need for congressional action. Now we need him to use his leadership to get voting rights legislation through the Senate. And if Republicans continue to block it using a filibuster, he must work with Senate leaders to break through that obstruction.

John Lewis nearly died in the struggle to pass the national Voting Rights Act. He dedicated his career in Congress to defending it. I am steeling myself for the disgust I will feel when Republican officials praise him on the anniversary of his death at the same time, they are undermining the cause to which he devoted his life.

Texas Democrats are honoring John Lewis by making good and necessary trouble. It is time for Democrats in Washington, and any Republicans committed more to country than party, to do the same.

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