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Op-Ed

To Be Equal: The State of Black America—Part 3, Justice

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Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 

 

“I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

What is the state of Black America in 2015? In short, and on many fronts, Black America remains in crisis – and we see justice challenged at every turn.

A few weeks before the launch of the 39th annual 2015 State of Black America® report – “Save our Cities: Education, Jobs + Justice,” the U.S. Department of Justice released a scathing, and perhaps for some, startling report on the systemic racial bias inflicted upon the African-American citizens of Ferguson, Mo. by the city’s police department. The report’s tragic catalyst was – and sadly remains – an all-too-familiar story in Black and Brown communities dotted across our nation: an unarmed black male was approached by an armed police officer and lost his life in the encounter.

The National Urban League’s analysis of the relevant data told much the same story: the Ferguson narrative could be the narrative of so many U.S. towns, but within that dark cloud we discovered strands of silver linings.

Today, fewer African Americans are the victims of violent crimes, there are more Black lawmakers in Congress than ever and the U.S. Department of Justice is actively working to confront police misconduct and improve police-community relations. Yet, we cannot easily forget the images of anger and despair we have seen in communities rocked by protests over the killings of unarmed Black males at the hands of law enforcement.

These encouraging and necessary strides in our struggle for equality in justice are overshadowed by justice miscarried, with outrage spilling onto our streets as a seemingly endless parade of police officers are not held accountable by grand juries for their actions. We are also witnessing a continual assault upon our voting rights, as several states prepare to pass legislation that would erode access to the ballot box for people of color.

The state of justice in Black and Brown communities is very often a shameful tale of injustice and clear racial disparities in the implementation of the law.

The tragedy of Mike Brown’s death in Ferguson, Eric Garner’s death in New York, and the deaths of so many others, should underscore a difficult truth that should not sit well with any American: law enforcement, in too many cases, provides neither equal protection nor equal justice in far too many communities of color. And this is no blanket indictment of police officers. There are, and will always be, good police officers who put their lives on the line to keep law-abiding citizens safe. As the heated debates and protests continue, we know that police officers have become victims of violence, most notably the two officers in New York City late last year and police officers in Ferguson this year. But this should not – and cannot – silence our call to action in communities besieged by police officers who treat the people they are intended to serve and protect as presumptively guilty.

The exoneration of the police officers in those deaths of unarmed men by grand juries signaled that police accountability for the taking of Black and Brown lives was reaching a modern-day low. Attorney Benjamin Crump, who represents the family of Mike Brown, penned an essay in the 2015 State of Black America® report: “It’s Time to Pass the Grand Jury Reform Act of 2014.” The bill calls for judges to determine if the State should bring criminal charges against police officers who fatally use deadly force and calls for governors to appoint special prosecutors for those hearings. Deciding whether or not to indict would be a judge’s decision, not a grand jury’s, and the proceeding would remain open to the public, unlike grand juries that are, by law, secret proceedings.

Following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strip preclearance from the Voting Rights Act, allowing states to bypass federal approval before changing their voting rules, 40 states are now in line to codify into law new ways to make it difficult for people to vote—laws that would disproportionately affect communities of color. Voting is a powerful tool for any individual or group in a democracy to influence their government and create change. Without this right, you have no voice. The National Urban League and others will continue to press Congress to pass the bipartisan Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014.  This legislative fix would create new rules to  determine which states require federal approval before making any changes their voting rules. Truth be told, we cannot maintain our commitment to democracy as a nation while, at the same time, deny the ballot box to so many of our citizens.

There are tremendous challenges ahead of us in what should be our national fight for equality under the law, because to deny justice to one is threaten justice to all, and as long as justice is challenged on any front, we must—as a nation— keep pushing on every front.

 

 

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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