Google+ Followers

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Road Often Traveled

There is a petition on WH.gov that seeks signatures for the purpose of restoring basic rights to the literally millions of ex-convicts who lost those rights due to their convictions and prison terms. Most people can tell you about the bigger items of disenfranchisement that occur when you are convicted of a felony. Many know about forfeiting your right to vote in many jurisdictions, your right to right to own a firearm even for protection and depending on your conviction, your right to hold certain positions either in the workplace or public office.

What people don't know is how much deeper it is than just the two or three examples that some people can come up with. Being an ex-prisoner is like being a tourist in your own community. I use the term ex-prisoner because the term ex-convict is a misnomer. Its a term that doesn't actually mean what most think it does. In this country, you are NEVER an “ex” convict. You are a person that has been convicted of a crime that has either served your “debt” to society or did not get sentenced to jail time. Release from prison has absolutely nothing to do with that label “convict.” In very, very, exceedingly rare cases (if you are not white, rich or know too many secrets to be allowed to write a book) you can apply either to your governor (in state convictions) or the President (federal cases) for a pardon but pardons are subject to restrictions that vary from state to state such as only being applicable to arrests that do not lead to a subsequent conviction or smaller, less serious crimes such as forgery, voter fraud, embezzlement, see where I'm going, basically “white collar” crimes. It is designed that way to allow the lighter skinned crooks free reign to continue being crooks, just be better at it the next time. Pardons are also given rarely to those who have stayed out of prison for a lengthy time that varies from state to state with no more contact with the criminal justice system. Maybe one out of every 100,000 of these are granted. I'll have to look up the stats to find out the true numbers, but trust me, you have a better chance of being attacked by a brown bear and a polar bear on the same day you were attacked by a shark, on the beach. If you are black, and your crime is anything more serious than say you stole a bike at 16, you have a better chance of hitting the Powerball and MegaMillions on the same day. In other words, yeah its possible but HIGHLY unlikely.

That being said, you are never going to be an ex-convict. Now that you have that scarlet C branded on your forehead, what are your options? Well to be honest, you don't have many. Lets talk about housing. You can't live just anywhere as your conviction bars you from any housing complex that accepts federal dollars (notice how I used a euphemism for the projects) Yes, you can't live in the worst places in most cities. A lot of people think it only applies to drug cases, that's not true, it also applies to “violent” crimes of which we all know the biggies, Murder, Kidnapping, Armed Robbery, etc. But guess, what, the term “violent” means many things to many people, in some jurisdictions, its burglary, some its car theft, if you have a weapon with you. Its possession of a unregistered firearm. I don't know about you my readers, but I don't know many ex-prisoners that don't have one of the two types of convictions, especially black ex-prisoners. A common tactic used by prosecuting/district attorneys is to load black defendant's up with every crime that they can think of that could possibly stick. That's how a lone shooting, or burglary, or theft ends up carrying 100 years in prison. If the defendant is white, there is an effort to find the least serious crime that fits the fact, but that's an article for another time. Its not just what happens at sentencing that is unjust and outright racist, it begins the moment the police read you your rights. So most of your guys that you know just got out the joint are living with their baby momma, Mother, girlfriend, or family and are NOT on the lease. That's allowed as well as it creates the perfect trap for catching and developing snitches. Police pull up to her door, tell her they want information on this or that, if she refuses they tell her that she knows its a violation of her lease to have Bobby living here and they can evict her tomorrow (actually they can't but most people don't read their leases further than how much they have to pay).

We already know and have been exhaustively inundated with stories of employment discrimination by unscrupulous bosses. From forcing those on parole/probation to work longer hours for no pay knowing that a call to the ex-prisoner's PO will result in his going back to prison. If your check is short, who are you going to complain to? You can't just quit as part of your parole/probation agreement is you remain gainfully employed. But what if you can't find a job? FIND A JOB!!!!! Or go back to prison/jail. But Jalal I see/know plenty of ex-prisoners that don't have a job, did you ever ask them if they are in violation of their parole/probation? Many remain on the street because one, there's no place to house them, two, the authorities know its just a matter of time before they commit another crime or three, its not that important. The revolving door as always turning, its a never ending money pit for the powers that be. More ex-prisoners on the street, more money we can ask for in police presence especially if they are all in one place. The more enterprising of these brothers cannot even start their own businesses due to the fact that depending on the profession, many require licensing by the state they are in. For example, in Texas, you are disqualified from selling insurance, real estate, liquor, candy, among other things on a list so long it would be twice as long as this article. You also cannot be a fireman (why after a conviction you can't run in a building to save a life I'll never know), policeman, probation officer, counselor (in most places, some will allow you to be a therapist/assistant). You also are precluded from being licensed as a cosmetologist, social worker, PhD, MD, or J.D. (attorney). You can't be a member of the bar so being a “certified/licensed” paralegal is prohibited. Basically all the professions that would allow the ex-prisoner to raise his standard of living so that he does not have to commit crime just to eat every day are removed from possibility.

Lastly lets deal with the intangible effects of a criminal conviction. These are effects that are not codified in any law, rule or regulation. What happens when you are an ex-prisoner is that you immediately become index-able. You become visible in that electronic frontier called the world wide web. That has drastic effect upon not only your housing/employment opportunities but also to whether you are accepted in large swaths of this society. With the growth of businesses like Emily's List and InstantBackgroundCheck, or as I call it niggawitagun.com, now anyone can find out exactly who you are and what you were charged with. This has ramifications well beyond the noble and intended function of not wanting a sex-offender repairing your child's ceiling. It also means that if your name comes up at all, possible business opportunities simply move on. It also means that there are now maps that show not only where the rapist/child molesters live but also where the armed robbers live and burglars live. Hover over a name and up pops his criminal history with everything but the most important thing, THE DATE THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED. So now you live on the same block as Sammy the baby booty bandit who just got out last month and you haven't committed a crime in 30 years. You'll notice also that there is curious effect that I call convict redlining. All these individuals usually live in the same areas of town. They are pushed into these areas and people are surprised that the crime rates are decidedly higher in those areas. Also read into the fact that sex/violent offenders cannot live within a decidedly ambiguous and arbitrary number of feet of a school. What is a school, anything they say a school is, after school programs at the community center, school. Weekend bible study at church, school. If you own a home and the street is rezoned for a elementary school across the street in that vacant lot, guess what, YOU HAVE TO MOVE. So you sell your home and decide to move to the 'burbs. The first thing that the homeowner's association is going to do is run a background check on you and by law they don't have to accept you. Because more of us don't own our homes, we never think about how quietly these associations have grown in power to the point where even if you somehow make through the mortgage process, they are that last line of defense. It even trickles down to apartment complexes. High end complexes won't let you rent if your car has rust or a broken muffler, even if you somehow dodge the whole “felony conviction” thing.

To make this even more personal, let me tell you about an incident that happened to me. My son turned four and in Texas that means he could go to preschool. Now since we live in an upscale part of Dallas, down the street from Deon Sanders, around the corner from a few Mavericks, there is serious MONEY here. I'm just playing the sidelines trying to provide a better life for my kids, you know the usual Amerikkkan dream bullshit. The preschool he ended up at is surrounded by upscale homes, the students dropped off in Benzes, Beamers and the occasional Rolls. (Google Frisco, Texas you'll know what I mean) I could care less about any of that, I drove up in my Dodge and didn't bat an eye. To say my son was one of the few black kids is an understatement, maybe 15, 20 in the whole school. My kid is friendly, not too militant (yet) and made lots of little white friends. On one occasion, the school had a parade in the school for all the little kiddos to show off their artwork. My wife couldn't get off so I said “what the hell” I'll go, its my kid. Now this is one of those schools that looks normal from the outside but go through the bomb proof doors on the other side of the concrete car stoppers, its a virtual prison inside. You have to be buzzed into the office. No just walking down the hallway. Must provide your DL to see your own child. But this is where shit went left. When you provide that DL, they do an instant background check. Guess what mine showed, yep, you got it. Additionally let me explain the insidiousness of the process. Many states have combined Sex/Violent Offender databases, that means that the batterers are lumped into the same list as the molesters, the armed robbers with the rapists. So what you say, well when you go to the registry it is emblazoned across the top SEXUAL PREDATOR and violent offender registry. Most people don't dig into your profile to find out that you were just a shooter, they don't have to. The simple fact that they see predator is enough for them to move against you. I have a real good friend that was denied initial entry into a union due to a lowly paid functionary that only saw sexual on the top of the list and assumed that he was a rapist. He got it straightened out and now he's a journeyman electrician that makes over $50 an hour, but how many people don't get the benefit of the doubt? Back to the story, the principal pulled me into her office and told me that in order for me to stand in the hallway with 30 or 40 other parents to watch a five minute procession of 4 year olds, she would have to “escort” me. So here I am being “policed” by a 5 foot nothing inch, 100 pound, with a brick in her pocket, white woman whose there to make sure that I didn't “cause any issues,” as she put it. Like I would come to the school to commit a crime in front of my kid. I was bracing myself for her to ask to frisk me.

Its kind of amusing to me as I know the fear that even a nice guy like me can engender in the average white person. That is what it is like to have that weight around your neck. That's the kind of experience that is not written about in the media or in books about the struggle. Those are the “death of a thousand paper cuts” that brothers go thru every day just trying to stay out of prison. So would I sign a petition that called for the rights of ex-prisoners to be reinstated, hell to the yeah, I would. Removing that disability would mean that my family and I could live wherever we would like and it wouldn't depend on whether or not the “community” accepted them and not me. It would mean that if some fool enters my home at 3:00 am with malice aforethought I could meet him with hollow points and not have the first question by the police be “do you know you are not allowed to be around firearms?” It would mean that I would be able to enter school grounds without a “bodyguard” being present. It would mean that when my name is ran through a thousand databases around the U.S., the first thing that pops up won't be ex-prisoner. That would mean that my chances of getting a loan for a mortgage or a vehicle won't be dependent on my criminal history. (oh, you didn't know that loan companies run background checks, you betta recognize) That would mean that when the police pull me over for a broken tail light when they run my license it won't buzz telling them that I'm a dangerous ex-prisoner that needs to be approached cautiously (read: that means keep his hands in sight and your hand on your weapon cause this nigga crazy) That would mean that I could raise my voice without seeming even more threatening that most brothers and sister are already. What that would mean in the end is I would be discriminated against, hated, feared, and discounted because I was a black guy like everyone else, not a black guy with a felony.

Drops mic, walks from stage, drippin blackness.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

One Day Shy

 

I have planned these blogs for months now. It’s the kind of thing that you always know that you must write someday but now that the day is here, where do you start? I guess the easiest thing would be to explain the title. One day shy refers to my journey really since leaving the Marine Corps. A lot of my friends and associates will be surprised to learn that as of yesterday, January 14, 2014, it will be exactly 10 years since I was released from the Indiana Department of Correction. That, in and of itself, is not all that uncommon. People are released from prison every day. What is extraordinary is the length of time it took for me to get to that release. To begin I have to go back, waaaayy back, to 1984. Specifically October 23, 1984. That was the day I was sentenced to 44 years in prison. The particulars are not that important, many of my friends and a few of my classmates went to prison that same year. Oh, yes, you did read that correctly, 44 years which in Indiana means that a convict serves 50% of his sentence. That’s 22 years for those that are slow counters. Needless to say, that relatively short statement (44 years incarceration) had a profound effect on my life and the man that I became. I was released a few months early for good behavior as well as earning my degree so I was released after 19 years 364 days. In other words, one day shy of 20 years.

Many of my friends always ask me why I know so much about prison/jail related issues as well as criminal justice in general. I just smile and tell them I read a lot. The truth is, I know so much because I lived it. I watch theatrical representations of prison. I watch “reality” shows about prison. I read, listen to podcasts, watch news stories about prison and think to myself, “if only they knew.” A lot of what you see on television is sanitized, it’s a caricature of what incarceration is, and only begins to scratch the surface of what a long term bit is like. When I went in 1984 prison was different than today. Now prison is sectioned off into pods. In the early eighties, prisons were “wide open,” a term that meant that inside of the forty foot wall I was behind, convicts ran everything. Convicts were responsible for everything from race relations to prisoner movement.  Convicts controlled what you ate, when you went to the doctor and even what particular religion you practiced.  If you ask many of my friends, prisons were better then.  I use the word “better” very loosely as prison is never good, its just a matter of being marginally “better” one day than the last.

That being said, I went to prison at 22 years of age.  That is considered young by many prison standards.  Due to the seriousness of my crime I was sent to a maximum security prison in southern Indiana.  The Indiana State Reformatory was designed to hold only prisoners with sentences in excess of 30 years.  It was also where the “young bucks” went as opposed to the Indiana State Prison which incarcerated older, more seasoned convicts.  An ongoing shell game existed in the DOC whereby the administration would transfer prisoners between the two to control their influence and to break up what would become lifetime bits.  You’ll read the term “bit” a lot in this work as it means to serve a sentence.  A sentence is a bit, and doing time is considered “bittin.”  To say I was subject to culture shock doesn’t even begin to do justice to what was to become every waking day of the next almost, one day shy, twenty years of my life.  One of the common misconceptions the uninitiated have about prison is the time worn vision of getting off the bus and walking between two lines of degenerate, homosexual rapists just waiting to prey on the first-time prisoners.  Nope. Didn’t happen, doesn’t happen.  Most people, and I think I’m qualified to say most, who go to prison know someone there.  It can be a friend from the block, a cousin, an uncle and sadly in many, many cases your father.  I’ll touch later on how many fathers and sons I was locked up with. I’ll even tell you about a real good friend of mine who saw his son join him AND his father in prison.  (Before you profile them, this was not a question of a bad family dynamic where there was no guidance, it was a case of really, really, really bad luck.)  Their story was atypical.

I will also mention many people but I’ll change their names, one for their protection/privacy, two due to the disheartening fact that, hell, I just don’t remember.  I also don’t want my writing to make one think that I’m looking for sympathy.  I did what I did, I did my time for it.  I learned more than one can expect from a fucked up situation and I became a better man for it.  My main reason for sharing, and in some cases oversharing, is to enlighten the uneducated.  I’m not special, everything that I’ll describe is happening as we speak to some other ex-convict.  I hope that my writing will help some of you understand what your brother, uncle, cousin, father, son and increasingly, sister, aunt, cousin, mother and daughter is going through trying to reconnect with this crazy world we live in.

I encourage you to share my story.  Comment on my blog, suggest it to others.  Oh, and click on an ad so Google will pay me my measly pittance for using Blogger as opposed to WordPress or one of the other blogging sites.  Also look out for the collected works to be published later on this year.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The N-Word

I have told myself time and time again that I would write something about the argument that is going on within our nation about the term nigger/nigga. I have went back and forth with myself about whether or not it is ever okay to use this word, whether in casual conversation with the fellas or heaven forbid with a white guy.

I believe that we as elder brothers/sisters in the struggle have lost sight of the reality of the situation. Realistically speaking, language is dynamic. A broader conversation could be had about profanity in general but for now let’s just talk about the so-called n-word. First and foremost, we need to stop calling it the “n-word.” When we say that, we may as well say nigga/nigger. When we hear that we don’t think nasty, we don’t think Neptune, we don’t even think narcissistic. We know what is being implied. To me, this gives others license to use the term but be protected by linguistic work around. The argument will be “well I didn’t say nigga/nigger, so see, I’m not a racist. I would much prefer the word not exist but I’m not retarded, I don’t live in a vacuum. I live in the real world.

That being said, there is a primary, undeniable reason today’s generation throws nigga/nigger around with no seeming sense of the word’s power and unfortunate history. It has nothing to do with a lack of grounding in our history. It has very little to do with the constant bombardment of the word through popular media. It is simply the FACT that unless you are at least 35 year old for the most part, you have no personal connection to the word. I, at 50+ years old, still remember “going down south” in the sixties, early seventies. I remember the stern warnings from the Great-Grandmother, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. I remember being told that I was from Gary, Indiana and that was a wholly different world for Blacks than Port Gibson, Mississippi or Chattanooga, Tennessee. There were things that you could get away with up north that would get you hurt in the south. Most of today’s generation didn’t have that experience. They, for the most part, have NEVER been called a nigga/nigger in anger. At least that’s the way they take it. No white person has ever looked at them and with venom dripping from their voice told them “nigger.” So there is no emotional connection to the word.

That’s why they are so comfortable with their friends and even white acquaintances using the word. It has become just another part of the common lexicon like bitch, hoe, ratchet, ghetto, etc. Although these words can be used to describe anyone in our society, they have become part and parcel used more often than not to describe us. Due to this overuse of these phrases we have come to be desensitized by their use. A nigga is my boy, “that’s my nigga.” “Bitch please,” how we argue with our queens. It’s all just culture now, a culture that we can rail against but eventually we have to accept our ineffectiveness and move on. We have to quit trying to go against the tide of cultural Amerikkka. Our battle cannot be fought in blogs; we’re outgunned by videos, YouTube, Facebook, twitter, etc. We are also in pitched battle with other mature “adults” who also use the word cavalierly in normal conversation. I’ll even admit I use it. I try not to, but when in Rome . . . As a casual aside, I actually went over 10 years without using it during my exploration of Black consciousness. Then culture changed and everything was nigga this, nigga that, bitch this, ratchet ass hoe that. Additionally, thousands of times a day on radio, thru Pandora, I-heart-radio etc., we hear the word. Record companies appear to reward our people for how many times they use the most degrading terms, as well as other exhortations to conspicuous consumption. It is exceedingly hard to combat this trend. As distasteful as it may be to us, what I and the conscious brothers/sisters I rotate with call the “lumpenproletariat” (look it up if you’re lacking in your 19th century Karl Marx) don’t see it that way. To make them understand the true nature of the term would require tearing down almost everything they think they know and instilling in them their true nature. Does anyone have time for that? Is that more important than teaching them how to respect their mates, or how to stop killing each other for little or no reason? Is that more important than teaching them how to avoid the pitfalls in life that will either kill them or incarcerate them? I think that we have bigger fish to fry, as the old folks used to say. Call me whatever you’d like but just don’t shoot me.
So the question was asked, is there any such thing as honorary black, or is it ever acceptable for white guys/gals to call you, or me, a nigga? Although it pains my heart to say it, I would say it depends. It depends on the situation. I’ve had young white guys who didn’t know me approach me like “what’s up my nigga?” (Suffice it to say they never did it again) They did it because their contemporaries never checked them. They did it because where they are from its acceptable behavior. They don’t see the world as polarized as we do. Some of them have true love for their ”niggaz.” They grew up in the hood and they know no more than their friends what the word truly means. Honorary blackness is out of the question as they’ll undoubtedly learn as they grow into their parents and are accepted by the society as a whole. I’ll bet money that Eminem probably used the word when he was young and running with D12 but when he became more attuned to the nuances of civilized behavior he realized that everything ain’t for everybody. He realized, like many before and many since, that everybody ain’t your guy and some people will tear your head off for the use of that term. In other words, he grew up. He became more mature. As long as we as a society accept their use of the term, endearment or not, they will use it with impunity. Usually, all it takes is for one brother to threaten, or perpetrate, violence due to their use of the word for them to realize that it is a no-no. What cannot be done is remove the word from the English language as a whole. It’s like Pandora’s Box, once its contents have escaped, they can never be returned to the box.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Solving Black on Black Violence

Where I think that we must begin is by acknowledging the fact that there has always been and will always be interethnic violence. One only need look at Africa to see that we fight each other, sometimes for reasons that make absolutely no sense to an outside observer. That being said, we must also realize that economics drive violence. This is because economics drive the underlying roots of violence, be it alcoholism, drug use, joblessness, despair and hopelessness. If we don’t think that violence is rooted in economics, look at more prosperous neighborhoods. When you have a job, you usually don’t drink or use drugs to excess. You don’t have time for it. When you have a job, you usually don’t have time to be in the streets 24/7. When you have money in your pocket that you earned, you usually don’t spend it on frivolous pursuits. Of course there are those that defy this description, both white and black, but the stats indicate that most people arrested for crimes that can be described as “black on black,” are unemployed.

We must also not look at our situation as somehow different than other ethnic groups. Most Caucasians are killed by Caucasians, Asians by Asians, Hispanics by Hispanics, Pacific Islanders by PI’s, etc. Ours is the most dramatic due to the fact that the media has a narrative about us that it needs to support so the murder in the hood is covered more extensively than the murder in the burbs. Yeah, we kill each other, but so does everyone else. Ours is more important to us because it is us.
But as I always say, we pundits, commentators, bloggers and two-centers are exceedingly good at describing the problem or symptoms of the problem but we SUUUUUCCCCKKKK at putting forth solutions. That being said, these are mine.

1. Forget our mindless rush to be accepted by the dominant culture. If the last 4 to 6 hundred years have not taught you anything, it should have shown you that you will never be accepted. We have to begin to accept each other in all our flaws. From the talented tenth to the sagging brother on the corner, we must believe that we are all in the same boat. That means instead of disparaging the so-called “sell-out brother” or castigating the so-called “thug,” we must understand that in the eyes of the dominant culture, they are the same. Look at how many of our successful people have gotten their “nigger wake up call” in the last few months/years. When we stop being scared of going to the hood, we will find out that not too long ago, we were in the hood.

2. We must also start adopting schools. I live in the burbs, not because I enjoy being around white people rather than my people (I have yet to go to or even be invited to the clich├ęd barbeque or superbowl party with my white neighbors and I’m not trippin), but instead because my genius ass kid can go to a school that caters to his smart ass in ways that the inner-city can’t. It sounds hypocritical because my kid goes to school out here but if ALL of us were to descend on the schools en mass, we could then influence the quality of what our children are taught. The one thing that I do respect about the citizens out here is that they are invested in their children’s schools. You can tell the difference between the exemplary schools and the academically acceptable schools. In the better schools the parents are in the schools everyday, EVERYDAY. Not the same parents but different ones. Some with jobs, many stay at home moms. The fathers all contribute time and skills to make all the pageants, plays, carnivals and get-togethers possible. (Oh and yes there are many, many white single moms out here too, so let’s leave out the deadbeat dad issue, we’ll deal with that at a later date) You’d be surprised at how having parents in the school cuts down on a lot of the petty conflicts that children get into. It also serves as a check on the gang activity, kinda hard to recruit a kid for the GD’s if his mom is with him, she’ll usually veto that membership offer.

3. We have to start investing in our neighborhoods. We have well over a trillion dollars in buying power spread out amongst us, however, we choose to donate those funds to businesses owned by those that don’t look like us. For example, in almost every major city in the U.S. you have Chinatown, Little Italy, Little Havana, Greektown, virtually every major ethnic group has a defined area that services their needs, up to and including Indians (from India), Pakistanis, Jews, etc. Where is our defined area? The Hood? The projects? Where are our mini-marts, our bodegas, our bowling alleys, our clothing stores? Is it because we don’t have the expertise to operate these types of businesses. No its because of our destructive mentality that “his” ice is colder. Their products are cheaper and of better value. Its because we believe that all we have to offer is entertainment. We can ball, we can rhyme but heaven forbid we decide that finding a cure for breast cancer (which kills more of our women than any other group) is worth going to school to learn to do. We begin our children’s lives, especially males, with a ball in their crib with hopes that he will be the next Jordan or the next Vick. What about the next George Washington Carver, the next Elijah McCoy, or Madame C.J. Walker? Their impact on this world will be felt long after Michael Jordan becomes Chuck Cooper. (Who???? The first Black NBA player for those who don’t read) So it’s the usual refrain, spend money with those who look like you. Employ those who look like you. Its not wrong, at least its no more wrong than what American businesses have been doing for decades. Which is essence the same thing. They’ll be those that will scream that its not that simple, why isn’t it that simple. We’ve entirely missed the boat on this new thing called crowdsourcing. There are numerous websites that allow someone with a good idea to ask the general public for funding. There is also microlending wherein those in a particular community provide small loans for those seeking to establish businesses in a general area. We need to take advantage of those tools.

4. Educated, influential black men need to educate our young black men that the dope game is over, its done, its prison waiting to happen. Just like we have billboards all over the hood advertising malt liquor and cigarettes or pastor chicken wing’s Sunday church service, we need to construct the largest, brightest, high-definition sound playing billboards we can build that sets out in plain language just how much time these dummies will get if they continue to do the dumb shit they do. Unfortunately, they don’t find that out until they get to jail, kinda like barring the door after you’ve been burglarized. Don’t believe the notion that they don’t read or can’t comprehend. Before the police get them, go down there and tell them what the deal is. Black lawyers need to hold open houses at community centers, in parks, on corners and explain how the massive incarceration of black men and women is the NEW slavery. (Read the 13th Amendment kids)

5. Lastly we need to start suing media companies for the damaging messages that are continuously broadcast in our communities. Yes, we will destroy the income of many an aspiring rapper but so what? They spending their money in Caucasian businesses anyway, jewelers, car dealerships, clothing stores, etc. I used to be of the mind that it was “just entertainment.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve witnessed the damage that these negative images put forth by those who look like us have on our communities. If you tell a developing brain day after day that they need to “move weight” to be successful, that anyone that’s not from your crew is a “hater” or an “enemy” that needs to be dealt with extreme prejudice that’s what they will grow to believe. They’ll find that its harder and harder to separate fantasy from reality. Every time some child gets killed as the result of a Facebook post, sue Facebook. We may never win a single case but we can put enough pressure on media entities that they’ll begin to change their practices.

My ideas may not seem very plausible. Who knows, they may be a total failure but at least it’s a start. At least I’m not wasting your time telling you things you already know. I’m not describing a community that you have no experience with. Again, we need to stop outlining the problem and think about, no matter how farfetched, solutions. Like the old adage, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Trayvon Martin The Aftermath Part Two: The Blackout

Blackout

As I’m quite sure many of us have done over the last few days, I have sat down and thought about what I think would be an adequate response to the TM verdict handed down in Florida. I won’t go into a long description about what happened, as unless you’ve been in a coma or otherwise off planet we all have heard from multiple sources who did what and how. The only unifying theme is still no one knows exactly what happened, and that’s not an issue. We believe we’ve been wronged and that’s enough.

We as Africans in this country have volumes of evidence that support that belief but that is not the thrust of this article. I am not here to describe what anyone with a third grade capacity to read can go to the library and research. I’m here to talk about what we do next if we are really dissatisfied with how we are treated in this country. I hope my readers will excuse me but I have a thing for preambles. I’m a big believer in the setup.

Our problem with a noteworthy response is two-fold. One, the response must be big enough to make our intended audience take note and two it must not in any way lead to us harming others or being harmed by others in ignorance/fear.

Let me first explain what won’t work. Pictures, however artfully done, won’t solve the problem. Facebook posts with Jesus’ (Jesus’s?) arm around TM are useless as they migrate slowly off the page, replaced by pics in Ghetto or Ghetto Fabulous or Vine or some other momentary pastime. Long, passionate blog posts, articles or YouTube rants, (with the exception of mine of course) aren’t effective as the only ones of us with a readership/viewership large enough are long on descriptions of the problem and short on solutions.

The true problem with forming and executing an effective, meaningful response is our respective level of dissatisfaction. I’ll admit I heard this from a late brother of mine Mahdi Nu’man who described us as Africans in America in a khutbah at Jum’mah services some years ago. See my friends/loved ones/haters as well, any response to what Africans in America now claim to be the latest “last straw” or the “I’m fed up and I ain’t gon take it no mo” moment in our history in the country is largely dependent on to what degree one participates. (Damn, I guess I’m the king of the run on sentence as well) There are some of us who are 10 percent dissatisfied and there are those of us who are 100 percent dissatisfied. The biggest difference between now and the civil rights era was that back then, they were 100% dissatisfied. Things couldn’t get any worse than they already were without going back to slavery. We have made great strides since then and now there are many of us who have something to lose. We identify/sympathize/empathize with what happens to us around the country but only to a point. Not to the point where we will jeopardize what we have worked for to get where we are.

Before you begin the requisite howling, raising of pitchforks and lighting of torches, let me explain that I’m not in the hood envious of those who are more fortunate than I. I live in a upscale gated community in a suburb north of Dallas. I don’t live here because I’m scared of or any way ashamed of my people. I’m here because they have the best schools in the area. Unfortunately, where we are forced to live for economic reasons, for the most part, have horrible school systems. (I’ll talk about tax based school systems in another article) But I digress. I have African friends who are PhDs, and who possess MBAs. I myself am simply lazy, I am maybe two or three classes away from my MA, having already graduated with a BS. I also have close friends that are a bit less . . . what’s the word, uhhh, safe. I have close friends that I wouldn’t want to be caught in a dark alley with. (Their lower self may get the better or them) I love them both as they are both reflections of the same person. The point is that my more erudite, accomplished friends may not be 100% dissatisfied with what it may take for this culture to respect us. My niggas from the hood though, down for whatever.

THE FINAL SOLUTION

Believe it or not, my plan won’t take much beyond a bit of sacrifice; it will though take us ALL, each and every last one of us. My plan will involve everyone from our illustrious President to that brother doing life, or its equivalent, in all of the jails and prisons in America. Whether you are a teacher, a judge, a policeman, criminal, inmate, or a fireman, I’m talking about you. Whether you host a nationally televised talk show, a weblog, or stand on a box in the middle of a vacant lot like Lawrence Fishburne in Boyz N Da Hood. My plan doesn’t involve boycotting any business as that has shown to be somewhat limited in scope. I read a rumor that the Koch brothers financed GZ’s defense so we should boycott Charmin or Bounty or something. Any plan must be bigger than that due to the fact that many of us (most) use the store brand of paper products anyway. I don’t want us to march on the statehouse in any state or city hall in any city; we’ve been marching so long our feet should fall off. We are not going to esign a petition to any lawmaker or write a letter to our congressman. All of these solutions have been tried and they have all failed.

What we need to do is indicate to the rest of this country just how important we are to its EVERYDAY function. We need for those who claim that we need to quit whining about slavery, and making everything a race issue to see just how integral we are to EVERYTHING that goes on in this country. We need a national BLACKOUT. We need every last one of us to take a week off from work beginning say . . . Trayvon Martin’s birthday. Whatever your industry is, get sick for a week. For those of us with job security, just don’t show up. For those of us with bills to pay and need our little bitty job (most), call in sick with MERS or EBOLA or West Nile Fever. Now when I say BLACKOUT, that’s what I mean. I mean everyone. No nurses, no doctors. No air traffic controllers (are any of them African?). No entertainers. No athletes. No home health aides. No pharmacists, no drug dealers. Whatever you are, whatever you do. If you own a business, close for a week. No haircuts, no tease and flips. No soul food. (It’s fattening anyway) We don’t need leaders either, so the good Revs can stay home and take the week off too. We don’t even need your job to be done. Hopefully President Obama will come home to the Chi and spend some time in the hood where he’s from. (Hmmm, though under my plan his African Secret Service agents will be home too, well we’ll work on that one)

Now that’s part one. Part two is while you’re off for that week; rediscover your family, your community. Talk to your neighbors; make amends with that guy from down the street that you argued with at the last HOA meeting. Talk about how to make our communities safe without arming everyone to the teeth. Talk with those gangbangers who everyone is afraid to make eye contact with. No spending of our dollars. I mean none. No gas station visits. Stay home or walk, we need to walk more. No Wal-Mart, no Target, Dollar General/City/Family, nothing. Keep your money in your pocket. Drop your cable or satellite plan down to local channels for a week. Change your cell phone plan down to the basic plan for one week. Turn your lights off, go by candlelight if possible. Oh, and no church, no tithing, no mosques, no zakat. If the powers that be see we’re not even going to church they’ll know we’re doubly serious. This society needs to see that this country cannot function without us. We are more than just a subset of society that can be overlooked whenever something happens that we don’t agree with. My plan will cost this economy billions in lost revenue, lost profits and lost productivity. That is exactly my goal. The only thing that America respects is that which has the capacity to cost it money.

Of course they’ll be those of other ethnicities that are married to us, have children by us or share children with us. We are not exclusive, if you want to join, be our guest. Just know that this is not about you, it’s about US. No disrespect, love you to death, appreciate your support but this is a black thang. It’s okay for us to have a thang too. Like St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo.

Of course they’ll be those of US who disagree with everything I’ve said and that’s fine as well. Of course, there will be pain. There will be those who lose their jobs, but look at it as the impetus for us to build businesses. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer who fired someone for participating in the blackout. They can't fire us all. Who will want to face the backlash of losing all of the black dollars we spend with their company. We’ll see who is 100% dissatisfied and to whom our treatment is a problem but “just not that deep.”

(Next Post: Going back down south)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trayvon Aftermath 7/14/2013

Okay readers, where do I start. I guess I’ll start with a sigh. I told you so just don’t quite convey the frustration that many of us who call ourselves conscious feel right now. Our collective frustration is not with who many think it is however. We have long railed against the utter laziness of our people, from those “talking heads” who predominate our public, social and media presence, to those hyperemotional citizens who stick their heads in front of microphones when the news trucks make their runs through the “hood” to see how the “common” man thinks about one subject or another.

Before you stop reading and chalk my latest rant up to me being another apologist for the powers-that-be or the culture at large. I mean the term laziness in terms of being largely uninformed about the laws and regulations that are used to “police” your communities every day. We have degenerated to a people of bandwagon jumpers. We are largely silent day to day until the next “national tragedy” befalls one of our communities. We were outraged and violent when Rodney King was beaten, we were outraged and less violent when Sean Bell was gunned down, we were outraged when Oscar Grant was killed ON VIDEO, now we are outraged because we absolutely refuse to see that the system did exactly what it was designed to do, protect the dominant culture from legal assault.

To use a phrase from one of my favorite movies, Will Smith said in IRobot, “Somehow, I told you so, just doesn’t cut it.” I have been saying for over a year now, look back at some of my Facebook posts, that we should not be surprised if GZ was found not guilty. Why and how did I come to this conclusion? Simple, I read and I have experience with how the system truly works, how it’s designed and more importantly who it is directed towards. There is a difference my uninformed friends between not guilty and factually innocent you can be one and not the other. Was George Zimmerman factually innocent, of course not, was he not guilty . . . the way the case was constructed by the prosecution, yes he was.

To use the title of a popular film in theaters now, let me explain. A criminal charge in Amerikkka is just what it is, a charge. It is not more meaningful than someone calling you a nigger. It’s just a name, a concept that, under our laws, must be proven. In a criminal sense it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, in a civil case it is judged by a preponderance of the evidence. That is how poor old O.J. was found not guilty in a criminal case but guilty in his civil trial. That much lower standard of justice is very important. Criminally, a prosecution must show that there was absolutely no other way the circumstances that happened could have happened any other way. Even the most vociferous Trayvon supporter has to admit, you weren’t there so you don’t know what happened. We can have a pretty good idea, but guess what, UNLESS THE DEFENDANT IS OF COLOR OR POOR pretty good ideas are not evidence. If the situation was reversed, say for sake of argument Trayvon would have wrestled his gun away from him and shot him a “pretty good idea” would probably lead to at the very least a very long prison sentence.

My point is, there was no way in hell Zimmerman was going to be found guilty because the criminal justice system is not moved by FB posts, Twitter feeds, ridiculous or photo shopped images of Trayvon eating Skittles and drinking Arizona tea with Jesus. The criminal justice system doesn’t care about Lebron James and the Heat all wearing hoodies and looking menacing. It really doesn’t even care about our President proclaiming that if he had a son he would “look just like Trayvon.” The system was here before any of that bullshit existed and will be here long after its moved on to the new novelty. The criminal justice system is designed to protect the life and property of the dominant culture, not the rights and sensibilities of all citizens. All you have to do is open your eyes and look around you. Do you really think it’s an accident that we make up less than 13% of the population but well over 50% of the prison population? Do you think it’s an accident that at the same time the system and mainstream/social media (which is rapidly becoming the same two headed monster) was obsessively masturbating over this white guy (more on that later) a black woman was getting sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the general direction of a man she had a protective order against. Trayvon Martins happen every hour of every day in Amerikkka. The tragic thing is that most of them happen at the hands of other Trayvons waiting to happen. In some poor white neighborhoods George Zimmerman is killing another George Zimmerman; most people murdered in Amerikkka are killed by perpetrators of their own race. So this is beyond race, this is about privilege. If you noticed, the Judge in this case, as well as the prosecution and the defense took pains to take race out of this trial. We didn’t hear much about the “coon” statement GZ supposedly made, we didn’t hear much about the “some cracker” remark by Trayvon. The one thing we did hear about, not in the trial but in the foreplay before the collective sexual assault that poor people took during this trial was that it was made plain that Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic.” Wait. A what? What the hell is that? Zimmerman was given the opportunity to play the race card in the beginning. He was able to nimbly skip between the dominant culture and the oppressed culture. He couldn’t be a racist he’s Hispanic (whatever that means, ask some of your Latin, Spanish, Mexican friends what it means to them), however, he can also claim “hey white people, I’m one of you, after all, it was our shit I was protecting.”

Which brings me to my underlying point which is the system will never change from within. It doesn’t matter who the Judge is, the system is bigger than any Judge (SCOTUS included . . . If I have to break down what SCOTUS is, you should go back to reading Zane novels and watching Tyler Perry movies and let the grown folks talk), its bigger than who we elect and its definitely bigger than a few “no justice, no peace” signs and concurrent “marches” for this or that. Don’t believe it, ask the Occupy movement (if you don’t know who they were and what happened to them, than you really need to read more)

I think I have the answer or at least a starting point. Want to know what it is, keep up with my blog. Save it, ask to be notified when I post a new one. Like it on FB, Twitter, Google+, Flipboard, Reddit or whatever your thing is. If you really know me, call me I’ll tell you. If you have a group that you head or are a part of, progressive or conservative, invite me to speak. In the meantime, shake it off; the system will give you something else to be hot as fish grease about in a few days/weeks/months.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Letter to The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

I watched your State of Union address as well as the response from the Republican Party. Your message inspired me to compose this letter to identify and resolve what I think is the problem with political reform in America.

I listened to a friend of mine, The JRil Show on Blogtalkradio and he vowed to not watch what he termed the “monday morning quarterbacking” that going on with pundits who have never ran anything in their lives that ever compares to the size and scope of your responsibilities try to tell you how to do your job. He also railed against, and I agree, the notion that the leadership of the GOP could brazenly complain about your inability to rescue in a year a disaster that it took 8 years of their leadership to create.

Along that end I honestly believe that in order for you to go down in history as one of greatest Chief Executives to ever hold the office of the Presidency, you must make the remaining three years of your first term about poverty. Not crime, not even Terrorism, but poverty. If Katrina and now Haiti did not teach us anything it should have illustrated the abject poverty that exists even in the developed world. Haiti may have been the poorest country in the western hemisphere but people fail to acknowledge that according to the International Monetary Fund, Haiti is number 132 in Gross Domestic Product. Meaning it has a larger GDP than such countries as Nicaragua, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. In fact, among the world's poorest countries, Haiti is relatively nice. There are people in Africa that would swim the ocean to get to Haiti, at least Haitians have water.

I believe that a partnership forged between you, and not necessarily every Democrat, and poor people would guarantee you a second term. What must be sacraficed is a message about how safe we are. The only real threat against U.S. interests either here or abroad comes from lone individuals slipping through the inevitable cracks in our security protocols. That will happen no matter who is in the White House. Remember, 9/11 happened to the Honorable George W. Bush and he was no slouch in inhibiting personal freedoms for security purposes. He was about as vigilant as could be and his Administration totally missed it. You can say this though, that was a one trick pony, that will never happen again. Not to that degree at least.

Here's the thing though, a mistake has been made in our conviction that Terrorism is at its heart a religious movement. There is a common misconception among the populace, even if to be politically correct most won't say it aloud, that Terrorist are forged in the fire of religious indoctrination. This is true to an extent, but what can't be diminished is the effect of abysmal poverty on his worldview. This country did a curious thing beginning after World War II we began in earnest the virtual support of many a country's food suppy. We dropped metric ton after metric ton of aid upon developing countries. What we also dropped was a free market economy along with the tools to reach that economy, i.e. cell phones, televisions, satellite transmissions, etc.) We showed the poor of the world exactly what life in the first world is like. We showed people who almost never see or eat fresh produce whole stores brimming with it. We show them life with more than one pair of shoes and they all match. We show a man who supports his family on $21.00 a month how to renovate their bathroom for a mere $50,000.00 when this man doesn't have indoor plumbing. We show a shower with 8 full body showerheads to a village with no running water not even to drink.

We, in effect, show the people of the world the life that they can never have, no matter how inventive, no matter how persistent. We assist poor people in their belief that we care little for those who are not like us. We provide poor people with the same access to information that we have and wonder what the recruitment tools are that terrorist groups use to influence the young. People all over the world know that the U.S. wastes over 100 Million pounds of food each year. We leave more food on our plates each day than the average poor child eats in a week. We televise this madness to people all over the world each day.

Poverty and our response to poverty will be Issue #1 for this decade. Not just the poverty that exists in the developing world but the poverty to be found within the borders of this country. Before we can lead the rest of the world, we must deal with our own shortcomings. In America 35.9 million persons live below the poverty line of which 12.9 million were children. 3% of America's children experience hunger every day in the richest country on the planet. Therein lies the real issue, its always been that way for poor people in America and by that I mean minorities. What is happening in America now is that more and more of the majority are being trapped in this whirlpool of credit debt, crushing mortgages, job loss and lost confidence in our elected leadership no matter the party. That's your new audience. The households that live paycheck to paycheck. Those individuals who in a spate of coincidental events can be the face of the new homeless. Just as some surmise that the wing flap of a butterfly can produce a hurricane a world away, some families are a car wreck, a bad infection, a sick child or parent, a plant closing or a house fire away from financial ruin, even with insurance.

If you reach out to those people and try to be the first President to address the inequities that exist right here in America, you create a peculiar political environment. You in effect say to your opponents that a vote against you is a vote against poor people whether working or not. There are more people in America that are on the borderline between lower middle class and upper lower class than is realized in the political discussion. This potential voting block can go to the leader who listens to their plight and responds in ways that actually helps them not just talks about it. Doubling the Child Care Tax Credit is a good example of this. It puts money in their hand that hopefully they'll save but also a portion of it will be put back into the economy necessitating the need to expand the business that provides the products they want to buy, which incidentally does a little thing like create jobs.

Respectfully

Kenneth Pitts
kenneth.pitts@rocketmail.com