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Op-Ed

To Be Equal: Rhetoric of Race at the Crossroads of Police Reform

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Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 

 

“Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias…We all – white and black – carry various biases around with us. I am reminded of the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: ‘Look around and you will find no one’s really color blind. Maybe it’s a fact we all should face. Everyone makes judgments based on race.’” – FBI Director James Comey in his speech “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race,” February 12, 2015

It was in the wake of the protest-fueled aftermaths of the high-profile killings of Black men at the hands of police officers, along with the execution-style murders of two New York City police officers, that the nation’s sitting FBI director marked an unprecedented first.  FBI Director James Comey – addressing an auditorium full of Georgetown University students on the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday – delivered an unsparing, timely speech on the alarming state of policing in Black and Brown communities.

Comey, the son of Irish immigrants and the grandson of a police officer, addressed the historically-charged relationship between law enforcement and the communities of color they are sworn to serve and protect, and in doing so, gave his speech an authority that cannot be understated.  In fact, he made a sizeable step towards inserting this much-needed analysis into our ongoing conversation on race in America.

Unfortunately, rhetoric, even candid rhetoric on the devastating impact of racism or unconscious racial bias in law enforcement, cannot stop a fatal bullet or bring back those we’ve lost.  For Comey’s words to be more than acknowledgment of this dilemma, they must translate into policies that address the unsettling issue of police misconduct in minority communities.

Pointing to the ever-present influence of unconscious racial bias that seeps into the daily interactions between the police and minorities, Comey also recognized that “racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.”  He is right on that score.

According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit racial bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”  The police, as well as the communities they serve, both come to the proverbial table with their implicit biases.

Implicit racial bias is not a figment of imagination, and acknowledging its existence can be the difference between life and death for all parties involved. Understanding this, Comey noted that “if we can’t help our latent biases, we can help our behavior in response to those instinctive reactions, which is why we work to design systems and processes that overcome that very human part of us all.”

I applaud the FBI director for calling on the nation’s law enforcement community to do more than simply acknowledge the problem, but to also act on the knowledge we have.  In November 2014, the National Urban League released our “10-Point Justice Plan for Police Reform and Accountability.” Among other recommendations, such as outfitting police officers with body cameras and a national comprehensive anti-racial profiling law, we advocated comprehensive retraining of all police officers.  We understood then, as we do now, that without addressing implicit racial bias, there is no policing tactic or theory that will change the status quo of law enforcement in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Comey’s other policy recommendations, including the better and wider collection of data in police-involved shootings and increasing the dialogue between police and the communities they serve, are also initiatives that we put forward in our 10-Point Plan.  The plan also called for the implementation of a 21st century community policing model as well as mandatory, uniform FBI reporting and audit of lethal force incidents involving all law enforcement.

While our nation’s conversation on race relations both within and beyond the borders of law enforcement is one we have engaged in for decades. Comey’s voice and ideas are welcomed ones in the ongoing fight for racial equality and justice.  But, of course, we need more than voices or ideas; we need a real commitment to policy change that trickles down to police academies, precincts and sheriffs’ offices around this nation.

America is at a crossroads.

We can choose to face and change the legacy of distrust of law enforcement in communities of color and vice versa.  We can choose to heal the wounds of that legacy and promote dialogue within these communities and with those charged with their protection.  As Comey concluded, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.”

 

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

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Op-Ed

Compassion in Oakland on Display in “This Is Life With Lisa Ling” Episode on Vincent Chin

The show focused on the Vincent Chin case, the famous Asian American hate crime that took place in Detroit in 1982.

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photo courtesy of broadway world

African Americans and Asian Americans working together in the past and the present? There were some good examples on last Sunday’s premier episode of CNN’s “This is Life with Lisa Ling.”

The show focused on the Vincent Chin case, the famous Asian American hate crime that took place in Detroit in 1982.

I’ve covered or written about the case most of my journalistic career. This CNN episode is a ‘must see,’ especially for younger people, or people who may still be wondering what the big deal is about Vincent Chin.

I’ve always admired Ling’s work. But what makes the episode stand out is her choice to tell Chin’s story through the life of author Helen Zia.

Helen and I are friends. And I will never forget all the kind words she’s said about me at times in my life when things were on the line. But I didn’t realize she worked in the auto industry before she made her mark as a journalist and author.

I’ve talked to Helen over the years about Chin, and you can hear our conversation on my 2017 podcast.

https://www.aaldef.org/blog/emil-guillermo-lessons-from-vincent-chin-murder-35-years-ago-podcast-helen-zia/

On last Sunday’s CNN show, I never saw Helen tell the Chin case so clearly and eloquently. Maybe that’s because in most stories about Chin, the devastating impact of Japan on the Detroit auto industry in the late ’70s and early ‘\’80s is usually covered in a paragraph. This Ling episode gives you a sense of that trade war through news clips of the times, and lets you see how easily it could have fueled the animus that erupted in the Chin case.

The violence was irrational as well, since Chin was Chinese, not Japanese. But that didn’t matter to auto worker Ronald Ebens, who murdered Chin.

The episode has Ebens in an old film clip saying he fully expected jail time for beating Chin to death. The fact that he didn’t serve time at all further shows the travesty in the case.

The episode also covers what Zia shared with me in 2017—that the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild originally balked at supporting the efforts of Asian Americans to seek justice at the federal level.

“They said, ‘you know, this has nothing to do with race because Vincent Chin is not Black,’” Zia said in the episode. “So civil rights laws only protect Black people, and we said ‘No, Vincent Chin’s civil rights should be protected as well.’”

It’s an eye-opening realization that in 1982, less than 20 years after the Civil Rights Act, the nation was still in a Black/white paradigm that excluded Asian Americans.

But Zia’s advocacy group, American Citizens for Justice, got support from the Black community, notably the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“We must redefine America,” Jackson said in a video clip. “So, everyone fits in the rainbow somewhere.”

It was the signal for a coalition to make its pitch to the Justice Department to take action in the Chin case.

“Every religion and walk of life came together,” said Zia. “Black, white, Latinx, LGBT, Jewish, Muslim saying ‘we are with you, we stand for you.’”

It’s the spirit of coalition we still need to this day. Sure enough, there’s a segment featuring a group, Compassion in Oakland, that reaches out to help escort Asian seniors in Oakland’s Chinatown.

“I grew up in this area,” says Kenyatta, 22, a volunteer, in the episode. “Seeing all the attacks on the news was breaking my heart.”

It’s a nice cap to the entire episode, which links Chin’s death, to Asian hate, to a community’s response. It shows how good things can happen when BIPOC communities work in the spirit of coalition and cooperation.

We can ease each other’s pain, if we care for one another first.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Black History

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis Pioneered Diversity in Foreign Service

UC Berkeley Grad Continues to Bring International Economic Empowerment for Women

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Ambassador Ruth A. Davis (left) is meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Ambassador Ruth A. Davis was recently named as a distinguished alumna by the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley. 

She also has been honored by the U.S. State Department when a conference room at the Foreign Service Institute in Virginia was named in honor of her service as director of the Institute. She was the first African American to serve in that position.

Davis, a graduate of Spelman College received a master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1968.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, also a graduate of the School of Social Welfare, now chairs the House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. She praised Ambassador Davis as “a trailblazing leader and one of the great American diplomats of our time. Over her 40-year career, she had so many ‘firsts’ on her resume: the first Black director of the Foreign Service Institute, the first Black woman Director General of the Foreign Service, and the first Black woman to be named a Career Ambassador, to name just a few.

“She served all over the world, from Kinshasa to Tokyo to Barcelona, where she was consul general, and to Benin, where she served as ambassador,” Lee continued. “ I am so proud of her many accomplishments. She has represented the best of America around the world, and our world is a better place because of her service.”

During Davis’ 40-year career in the Foreign Service, she also served as chief of staff in the Africa Bureau, and as distinguished advisor for international affairs at Howard University. She retired in 2009 as a Career Ambassador, the highest-level rank in Foreign Service.

Since her retirement, Ambassador Davis has served as the chair (and a founding member) of the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC), an organization devoted to promoting women’s economic empowerment by creating an international network of businesswomen.

She also chairs the selection committee for the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship at Howard University’s Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center, where she helps to oversee the annual selection process. Finally, as vice president of the Association of Black American Ambassadors, she participates in activities involving the recruitment, preparation, hiring, retention, mentoring and promotion of minority Foreign Service employees.

Gay Plair Cobb, former Regional Administrator of the Women’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor in the Atlanta, and San Francisco offices, was Ambassador Davis’ roommate at UC Berkeley. Cobb said, “Ruth always exhibited outstanding leadership and a determined commitment to fairness, equal opportunity and activism, which we engaged in on a regular basis.”

Davis has received the Department of State’s Superior Honor Award, Arnold L. Raphel Memorial Award and Equal Employment Opportunity Award; the Secretary of State’s Achievement Award (including from Gen. Colin Powell); the Director General’s Foreign Service Cup; two Presidential Distinguished Service Awards; and Honorary Doctor of Laws from Middlebury and Spelman Colleges.

A native of Atlanta, Davis was recently named to the Economist’s 2015 Global Diversity List as one of the Top 50 Diversity Figures in Public Life and is the recipient of the American Foreign Service Association’s Lifetime Contributions to American Diplomacy Award.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Business

City Must Pay Contractors, Businesses, Non-Profits Promptly

By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

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Sheng Thao

I have introduced legislation to restore the City of Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance and it will be heard at 1:30 p.m. by the City Council on October 19 because local contractors and local businesses need to be compensated in a timely manner for work they do on behalf of the City.

It’s unacceptable that the city is using the COVID-19 pandemic to delay payment to these local non-profit organizations.  By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Interim City Administrator, Steven Falk issued an Emergency Order suspending parts of the City’s codes to give the City the flexibility to navigate the uncertain times.  Few would have guessed then that the world would still be navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic nearly 18 months later. One of the ordinances suspended by the Emergency Order was the Prompt Payment Ordinance.

Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance requires the City to compensate local businesses and contractors executing City grants or contracts within 20 days of receiving an invoice.  This allows local organizations providing services on behalf of the City of Oakland to be compensated in a timely manner and builds trust between these organizations and the city.  Local contractors and businesses provide a diverse set of services to the City, covering areas ranging from trash removal and paving to public safety.

Almost 18 months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance is still suspended.  Even as City staff have adjusted to working remotely and the City has adjusted to operating during the pandemic, there is no requirement that the City compensate its contractors or local businesses in a timely manner.

Oaklanders can comment at the meeting by joining the Zoom meeting via this link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88527652491 or calling 1-669-900-6833 and using the Meeting ID 885 2765 2491 and raising their hand during the public comment period at the beginning of the Council meeting.

 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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