- Created on 24 April 2013
Being a college student at the time, I clearly remember when Nancy Reagan and the conservative wave in national government helped usher in the nation’s War on Drugs in the 1980s.
Television news images of drug busts, large and small, along with the wholesale arrests and stiffer sentencing for anyone even suspected of drug involvement sent a clear...
- Created on 23 April 2013
At first I wondered why I felt so powerful a sense of déjà vu last week when the Senate blocked gun control legislation drafted by a bipartisan group of Senators and supported by the Obama administration.
That sensation even overwhelmed my fury at the craven surrender of the “anti” Senators to the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful of the right-wing extremist groups that wag the Republican Party. But then, as I watched President Obama’s April 17th news conference and looked at the faces of those behind him – some whose features were etched with anger, others with a sense of betrayal – I realized my mind was flashing back to the early 1960s. I was thinking of the innumerable news conferences civil rights leaders held in dozens of Southern cities and towns after White mobs had attacked peaceful demonstrators or segregationist officials had stood in another schoolhouse or polling-place door. They, too, most often seemed to have set their facial features in that same stressed emotional range.
It was then I grasped the connection between my memories of those long-ago incidents and the conservatives’ success last week in the Senate. Both harshly illuminated their respective era’s defining characteristic: the bare-knuckle confrontation between those Americans who want to expand democracy and those who want to limit it in order to preserve their own power.
In the early 1960s, that confrontation was almost exclusively centered on the Civil Rights Movement’s efforts to destroy the racism that for nearly a century had marooned Black Americans in a small corner of American life. Today, conservatives have arrayed their resistance to expanding democracy across a broader front of issues and against groups of Americans who are staking their claim to first-class citizenship.
This is what last week’s Senate vote underscored. Recent polls show that more than 90 percent of Americans favor the universal background checks on gun purchases the Senate legislation proposed. That overwhelming majority included 80-plus percent of Republicans and of those who live in homes where one or more people own guns. Yet, a minority of Senators – four Democrats and 41 Republicans – ignored that extraordinary breadth of popular agreement and instead combined to prevent the legislation from getting the 60 votes that would enable it to withstand a certain Republican Party filibuster on the way to passage.
Referring to the “enormous resistance in Congress to passing” strong gun control measures, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asked in an essay pointedly titled, “The end of majority rule?” He asked, “What does ‘rule of the people’ mean if a 9-to-1 issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?” Answering his own question later in the piece, he wrote that “a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right … explains why election outcomes and the public’s preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.”
As a visibly angered President Obama, pledging to continue his campaign for substantive gun-control measures by executive order if necessary, said, the “antis” opposition to the measured bipartisan gun-control proposals was replete with distortions of fact and outright lies. Perhaps the most shameful was the assertion by several conservative politicians, pundits and talk-show jockeys that the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook School massacre, who actively supported the legislation, were dupes and “props” of the president.
If that charge sounds familiar, just remember that for years White and Black conservatives have declared the 90-plus percent of Black Americans who consistently vote Democratic have, against their actual best interests, willfully imprisoned themselves on the Democratic “plantation.” Both charges carry the same, barely implicit insult: If you don’t share our views, you’re too stupid to know what’s good for you.
In a scathing op-ed in the April 17 New York Times, Gabrielle Giffords, the former member of Congress whose serious wounding in 2011 by a deranged gunman helped re-energize the gun-control campaign, castigated the “minority of senators [who] … looked at the most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby – and brought shame on themselves and our government by choosing to do nothing.” Giffords declared she would “not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done.”
The right-wing attack on democracy is also why, for the second time in less than five years, the Voting Rights Act’s key provision is being challenged at the Supreme Court – even as Republican state legislators across the country are re-doubling their efforts to restrict the access of Blacks and other Democratic-leaning blocs to the ballot box.
Those Americans who favor more, not less democracy should follow the model of Gabby Giffords, and of the activists who decades ago fueled the Civil Rights Movement’s success – and get back to the barricades.
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.
- Created on 22 April 2013
I don’t know where CNN’s John King got the information that a suspect in the Boston bombing was “a dark-skinned male,” but beyond apologizing, he needs to explain himself. How many sources gave him the false tip? If it was fewer than two, then he violated a basic journalism rule. Who were these sources (if you don’t want to out them publicly, tell your editor)? Did King understand that he used the kind of racial/ethnic coding that once got people, even uninvolved and innocent people, lynched?
Remember Charles Stuart? He was riding through Roxbury (used to be the ‘hood) when he says a Black man, wearing a jogging suit with a stripe on the sleeve, shot him and his wife in an attempted carjacking. Pregnant Carol Stuart lived for just a few hours, and their baby, delivered by C-section, lived for only 17 days. Stuart’s report of the alleged incident sparked a national outpouring of sympathy of him, and an excoriation of “Black criminals” who do such senseless things.
The police were going door to door looking for a suspect, and several Black men were interrogated. Stewart identified one man in a line-up, and police were building a case against him when it discovered that Stuart’s wounds were self-inflicted and that his brother had helped him slaughter his wife. Meanwhile, Stuart collected at least $100,000 from an insurance policy on his wife, using the money to pay for a new car in cash, and to buy jewelry. Unable to face the consequences of his actions, Stuart committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.
Stuart was too much a coward to be judged by a jury of his peers, but hundreds of Black men could not escape the injustice of the Stuart accusations. The Roxbury community was traumatized by the results of Stuart’s lies. Innocent men were questioned, many spending time at police stations in an effort to clear themselves. Those questioned and detained included students, professional men, the unemployed, and everybody in between. When in doubt, blame a Black man, any Black man, and let the chips fall where they may.
In 1994 Susan Smith, a South Carolina housewife, said that a Black man stole her two children. Later, she confessed to killing her own children. Again, dozens of innocent Black men were stopped, frisked, and taken to police stations for questioning. Clearly Susan Smith was mentally ill, but she wasn’t so broken that she didn’t know that blaming her children’s disappearance on a Black man gave her lies more credibility.
The Stuart and Smith cases made headlines in the late 20th century. Now, our feet are firmly planted in the 21st century. Does this kind of racist stereotyping still take place? While these kinds of cases no longer make headlines, I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these occurrences continue to be. When in doubt, blame a Black man.
So here comes CNN’s John King, a heretofore respected newsman, who repeatedly said that a “dark skinned man” was a suspect in the Boston bombing. Here we go again. This kind of false reporting makes every dark-skinned man in Boston a suspect, reminds Bostonians of the Stuart hoax, and sends a shudder through those African Americans who remember police officers going door to door in housing projects rounding up the Black men.
Thanks, John King. Your job is to report the news, not make it. I wonder if you will apologize as many times as you said “dark-skinned man” or if you will ever explain where you got your false information. I’d hate to think that you transitioned from journalist to creative writer when you shared this information.
Some will say no harm was done because there was a correction. No harm was done if you don’t know the history. If someone described an alleged criminal as a White man with brown hair, it is unlikely that the police would go door to door looking for a White man with brown hair. That’s the basic racism that is the foundation of our nation’s history. John King’s erroneous reporting reminds us how easy it is to blame a “dark skinned” man.
Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
- Created on 23 April 2013
Every time the National Rifle Association (NRA) or its political allies block any form of gun control, people throw up their hands in complete frustration trying to figure out why the NRA will, seemingly, never agree to any sort of reasonable gun control. The answer is quite simple: the NRA believes that any degree of gun control is a slippery slope which will inevitably lead to more restrictions on the use of fire arms. Once you appreciate the NRA’s “logic,” their positions—as backward and anti-social as they are—take on a different meaning.
What is critical that one appreciates is that the NRA is not so much focused on this or that piece of gun control legislation. I would wager that they probably care little about whether a clip has three bullets or 300. What they care about is that restrictions on any ammo clip will result, over time, in greater restrictions on guns.
It is, therefore, important that those of us who believe that it is not a great idea for mentally disturbed individuals to have access to firearms, to never assume that passionate pleas to the NRA or its political allies will work. The NRA has inoculated itself against passionate pleas. The ghosts of the children killed at the daycare center in Newtown, Conn. could appear in front of the headquarters of the NRA and it would make no difference.
In appreciating what motivates the NRA one must, therefore, understand that winning reasonable gun control, e.g., universal background checks, will not happen through television commercials or the tears of victims of gun violence. Such legislation will result from raw power and intense organizing among the public. The NRA is a very well-funded and well-organized lobby that has the capacity to put the fear of God into many elected officials. The only way to counter that is not through attempts at compromise but rather by developing a sufficient counter-force that will cause elected officials to pause before they give away the store to the NRA.
A country built on racial slavery and genocide finds it difficult to accept that there need to be controls over the use of firearms. That history of rampant, frequently uncontrolled – yet directed – violence is the toxin which is in the political system that periodically produces moments of complete insanity. This toxin leads too many people to believe that having nearly unfettered access to firearms is paramount regardless of how many innocent individuals lose their lives.
It is not the 2nd Amendment that fundamentally motivates uncompromising firearms fanatics, but the fear that was engendered through the scars resulting from the violent history of this country. Given that history, the NRA is successfully able to play a tune to which so many will dance. In the bizarre universe which the NRA has constructed, built upon and within a very real and violent history, it all starts to make sense…and is equally sickening.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.
- Created on 22 April 2013
The United States Senate’s failure to pass common sense gun safety measures – the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to expand background checks to keep guns away from underage or dangerous people, and amendments to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines designed only to kill as many human beings as possible — is a moral failure of great magnitude. Once again, the safety of children has been sacrificed by political leaders in service to the gun lobby. As Americans do we value guns more than the lives of children? Do we really want to continue to have political leaders who kowtow to the threats and money and half-truths of the gun lobby and who think their political jobs are more important than the right of children to live and learn and grow up in safety?
The fight to protect children, not guns is not over because:
Ninety percent of Americans want a universal background check. This includes 94 percent of North Dakota voters, 89 percent of Indiana voters, 89 percent of New Hampshire voters, 84 percent of Arkansas voters, and 79 percent of Montana voters—all states where at least one senator went against the will of their constituents and of the American people. Getting 90 percent of Americans to agree on anything is extremely difficult.
No one elected the National Rifle Association to be in charge of our children’s and our nation’s safety. We have elected federal, state, and local governments, a national defense department, and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to perform this crucial function. The NRA represents less than 10 percent of gun owners and is a minority view. Their stance against universal background checks defies not only 90 percent of all Americans, but 88 percent of those with a gun in the household and 74 percent of the NRA’s own membership. The NRA claims up to 5 million members but there are many more Americans who are not NRA members. We must lift our voices and use our votes to protect children over guns.
Lies and misinformation must not rule the day in a democratic society. The NRA claimed that the Manchin-Toomey Amendment would prevent people from transferring guns to relatives and lead to a gun registry. Neither is true. As co-sponsor Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), an “A” rated NRA member, said: “That is simply a lie . . . You can loan your hunting rifle to your buddy without any new restrictions . . . You can give or sell a gun to your brother or your sister, your cousin, your uncle, your co-worker without a background check. You can post a gun for sale on the cork bulletin board at your workplace or on your church bulletin board without a background check.”
Senator Manchin also said, “[Anybody] that has read that bill that would think that would allow or entice the government to begin a registry is misleading and lying.” The NRA may have won the first round by spreading lies and confusion, but they must not and will not win in the end. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because ‘truth crushed to earth will rise again.’ How long? Not long, because ‘no lie can live forever.’”
Our children have a right to grow up in a caring and decent society that protects their right to live and learn in safety. That right must take precedence over anyone’s right to own assault weapons or high capacity magazines that have nothing to do with self-defense or hunting and have no place in the hands of non-military and non-law enforcement personnel. Without these weapons of war applied to our children, how many would be alive today? How many Newtown or Aurora or Columbine victims would have survived?
There have been 166,562 children and teens who have died since 1965 from guns on American soil, while 52,280 U.S. soldiers were killed in action in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined. On average during that period, 3,470 children and teens were killed by guns every year – 174 classrooms of 20 children. This is intolerable in a decent and democratic society. When will the number of children killed by guns in our country be sufficient for enough of our Congressional leaders to pass common sense gun safety laws to protect them as Connecticut, New York, Colorado, and Maryland have recently done?
I hope that everyone who believes in protecting our children’s right to live and grow up will become as vocal and passionate and organized as those who seek more and more dangerous weapons of death in a nation already saturated with more than 300 million guns. We must stop this relentless war against our children and dethrone the NRA whose reign obstructs what 90 percent of Americans want.
I woke up the morning after the Senate votes thinking about Sojourner Truth, one of my role models, a brilliant and indomitable slave woman who could neither read nor write but who was passionate about ending unjust slavery and second-class treatment of women. At the end of one of her antislavery talks in Ohio, a man came up to her and said, “Old woman, do you think that your talk about slavery does any good? Do you suppose people care what you say? Why, I don’t care anymore for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea.” “Perhaps not,” she answered, “but, the Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching.”
Some of our Senators have just told us that they don’t care what 90 percent of us want and have closed their ears to the pleas of those who have lost their children and family members to gun violence. But we must be determined and persistent fleas until we move them either to change their minds or kick them out of office. I hope enough of us will bite them, bite them, and bite them until they do care about the children whose lives have been cut short and those at risk of the same fate. Enough fleas biting strategically can make the biggest dog uncomfortable. And if they flick some of us off but even more of us keep coming back and biting with our calls, emails, visits, nonviolent direct action protests, and votes (the most important nonviolent protest)—we’ll win.
Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.