NEW YORK — The parents who gathered on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall on a recent balmy Sunday morning came from different boroughs and ranged in age but all had one thing in common — all of them had buried a child who had been killed by the police.
Some at the rally laid the blame for increased police aggression on Donald Trump’s administration and Jeff Sessions’s Department of Justice. But state Assemblyman Charles Barron, a Democrat and former City Council member for Brooklyn, warned the crowd not to focus too much on Trump and his supporters. This is a fight that has been going on before the last presidential election, he said.
Today I was hopeful. I was hopeful because I witnessed several NFL teams defy our current president, DJT, who a famous sports host labeled correctly a “racist and white supremacist,” and who a famous NBA star called “a bum.” DJT had, even before he was elected, ignited a national sense of urgency to resist social injustice in the so-called “mighty USA.”
However, his recent attack on Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who courageously exercised their uniquely American rights and heritage of resistance and freedom. It is actually extremely ironic that many people, such as our “bum” president, criticize those of us who stand up and speak out on injustices, such as police’s cold-blooded murder of black people such as Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Sheila Bland, etc., etc., etc. (or by people pretending to be police, such as what happened to Trayvon Martin).
The irony is that Americans should celebrate and join those of us who speak out against injustice in our society. For goodness sake, this is what our country was supposedly founded upon, although initially did not live up to. No one said it better than the late great Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, when he delivered the bicentennial speech at the annual seminar of the San Francisco Patent & Trademark Law Association in 1987.
About “We the People,” the first three words of our Constitution, Marshall said, “… On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes at three-fifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over 130 years ...” His point, of course, is that everyone in this country was not included in this statement, “We the People.”
I strongly urge every American to read his words and consider its credibility on its own merits. I read it to whoever I am around on every July 4th. Unfortunately, Mr. DJT, America was not initially the country that other countries should emulate and try to pattern themselves after.
It’s only because of those who fought for the Union in the Civil War and the civil rights, women’s rights and LBGTQI rights movements in this country that America has begun to live up to her “promise.” It is only because of the type of protest and resistance found in these movements that America has begun to deserve the honor and glory that many have fought for and died for.
Prior to the Civil War, and subsequent social justice movements, such as the civil rights movement, America was literally just a theory, a wonderful and splendid theory, but a theory nonetheless. In practice, prior to the Civil War and civil rights movements, America was a lie and nothing to be proud of at all.
This brings me to my core point. Ironically, the Charlottesville murder of a true patriot, Heather Heyer, that DJT did not adequately deal with — instead choosing to defend the racist murderer(s) who killed her and wounded so many others that fateful day, is what crystallized these ideas for me.
DJT was defending those racists who were defending those who fought to keep slavery intact. This is consistent with DJT’s so-called defense of “all soldiers” just for being soldiers, when he attacks Kaepernick and others who kneel during the national anthem in the presence of all those soldiers on the field at NFL games.
First of all, not all soldiers should be honored and celebrated in the same way. Some soldiers, such as those who fought in defense of the Confederacy, or those soldiers who did not want black soldiers next to them or with them in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, etc., should not be honored.
I personally do not respect nor honor soldiers who had racism in their hearts, minds and souls. I understand and join many of those Americans who do not respect and honor them as well. Therefore, Kaepernick and others who take a knee during the national anthem are actually displaying our best and most honorable principles and traditions because they are calling attention to the racist, unjust and hypocritical conditions in this country, many of which still remain today.
So thank you, DJT. I appreciate the help. Anything anyone can do to get more people to stand up (or kneel down) and speak out against racists such as yourself is so very much welcomed. Just for the record, because it is not about me, I want to verify my credibility to make these comments.
I am a black man who happens to both have lived under a racist police state as a youth in Paterson, New Jersey and who has been studying, researching and teaching about the problem of racism in our juvenile and criminal justice systems for the past 20-plus years. I am also an associate professor of social work at a university in New York City and I have been researching and publishing on this topic for two decades.
In closing, I sincerely do thank you, DJT, for rallying the troops for social justice, human rights and real equality. Hundreds of NFL players would have never acted today had it not been for your idiotic and disrespectful comments about them and their mothers. Peace, family, but keep fighting. I’d rather stand up and die with honor on 125th Street than lie down and live without honor in an apartment on 5th Avenue, Mr. DJT.
Edgar Tyson, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York. He has been a researcher and educator for 14 years and a practitioner, specializing in treatment of high-risk and delinquent youth, for the past 21 years.
As I watched Attorney General Jeff Sessions announce the termination of DACA, I was reminded how President Donald Trump had duped Democrats into actually supporting Sessions and arguing that he should not be removed as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions’ announcement meant the end of protections provided to nearly one million Dreamers under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
A few months before the DACA press conference, when Sessions erroneously claimed that children brought to the United States by their parents were taking jobs away from Americans, Trump publicly criticized Sessions and signaled that he might be one of several administration officials on the chopping block. But fearing that Sessions’ ouster might lead to the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats caved and called for the attorney general to keep his job. Just a few months earlier, in his confirmation hearings, these same Democrats were trying to stop Sessions from becoming the nation’s top cop while reading the words of Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, warning that Session was a racist.
There has been debate about whether Trump is crazy or crazy like a fox. Though clearly showing signs of mental instability at times, Trump seemed to outfox Democrats with this move. Democratic and Republican congressmen called on Trump to keep his attorney general in place, and the president, who usually shuns such pressure, either complied or enacted his ploy to deceive the Democrats. Either way, Sessions remains, more secure than ever.
Sessions leads the Department of Justice, which encompasses the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). The OJJDP distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to states for prevention, diversion and rehabilitation programs, including those that aim to reduce racial and ethnic disparities. Yet his regressive policy agenda may dismantle the very reforms OJJDP has sought to achieve.
While the attorney general for Alabama, Sessions suggested that youth in the juvenile justice system be sent to “work camps” and argued for more funds to be spent on expanding youth incarceration. When he was on a youth violence subcommittee in the U.S. Senate, Sessions doubled down on his out-of-touch stance on juvenile justice, opposing prevention programs. In 2009, he also put forth an amendment to the reauthorization of juvenile justice funding to expand the number of children being charged and incarcerated as adults in the federal system.
Early on in Trump’s presidency, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would no longer pursue federal orders to reform police agencies that abuse their powers and have a pattern and practice of discrimination. Then while speaking to officers in New York, Trump encouraged police to violate the Constitution by intentionally roughing up suspects.
Sessions has also rescinded Obama administration policy aimed at reducing the number of people imprisoned for drug crimes. The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative implemented by former Attorney General Eric Holder encouraged federal prosecutors to not go after long sentences for those charged with nonviolent drug offenses, a policy that has become a universally accepted, nonpartisan issue.
Sessions is instead looking to revive the war on drugs that led America to excessive levels of mass incarceration. After several decades of over-reliance on ineffective, harmful and excessively expensive incarceration, the United States has finally seen a significant reduction in youth detention rates and the beginning of a decline in the number of adults in prison.
Jeff Sessions would like to take us back to the dark ages, and Trump duped Democrats into supporting him.
David Muhammad is the executive director of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. He is the former chief probation officer of Alameda County in California and the former deputy commission of probation in New York City.
BOSTON — With her 2-year-old son perched on her shoulders, Tomiqua Williams, 30, carefully guided her 5-year-old daughter’s wheelchair to the edge of the sidewalk, making sure she had a good view as thousands of marchers carrying signs denouncing hate and promoting tolerance poured through her Lower Roxbury neighborhood.
“I live down the street and it’s very monumental to see all the people who’s coming out to counter-protest what’s going to happen at the Boston Common today,” Williams said. She wants her children to know how important it is to stand up against hatred and racism.
“I want them to see and enjoy this moment,” she added.
Bayou Cugma, 9, who lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, said he would normally spend the last few days of summer playing soccer or basketball but that he was happy to give up an afternoon of play to help stop hate.
“It makes me feel strong and I hope it makes people stop all the madness,” said Cugma, referring to recent police killings of black men and other acts of racial hatred. He starts fourth grade in a few weeks.
Officials estimate more than 40,000 counter-protesters descended on the Boston Common Saturday to denounce white supremacy and hate speech and to oppose a protest described by organizers as a “free speech” rally. Counter-protesters, as well as city officials, were alarmed by possible connections between organizers of the “free speech” rally and a demonstration held last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white supremacists and neo-Nazis carrying torches and rifles spread messages of hate. One woman was killed, two state troopers in a helicopter died in a crash and numerous others were injured during the protest.
Organizers of the Boston rally denied being affiliated with the Charlottesville protestors, but counter-protester organizers and marchers were not convinced.
"If this was really about free speech, we would have been invited from day one to speak and have a platform," said Angelina Camacho, who is the Black Lives Matter co-organizer for the Boston area, at a Friday morning press conference.
“People are using freedom of speech for the gathering on the Common but we all know what is behind it and we’re against it,” said Boston resident Nancy Huang, 22, who was marching with friends from Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Most counter-protesters rallied at the Reggie Lewis Center in the city’s historically black, but rapidly gentrifying, Roxbury neighborhood, then marched through Lower Roxbury and the South End on their way to the Boston Common.
Many said the march gave them an outlet to express their opposition to white supremacy and the political atmosphere that surrounds President Donald Trump, who is under fire for not immediately denouncing events in Charlottesville.
“I don’t think we should be staying silent while something this wrong is happening,” said Jocelyn Antonio, 27, as she marched with a group of young people down Tremont Street toward the Boston Common.
“It’s not like white supremacy hasn’t been happening all along,” Antonio said. “But when it’s so overt and in your face, you have to do something about it and if you don’t you’re just encouraging people and letting them know that it’s OK — and it’s not.”
The Boston organizers may have gotten that message.
Only about three dozen showed up, and the event ended after only about an hour. Those in attendance were escorted out by police shortly before the main group of counter-protesters reached the Common.
Initially, small groups of counter-protesters and police clashed when officers appeared to protect the small group of "free speech" rally-goers and counter-protesters were pushed back by a line of police in riot gear. Later in the afternoon, large crowds pushed their way across Tremont Street toward the city's downtown area as a small number of Trump supporters confronted counter-protesters.
But in spite of the clashes, the event was overwhelmingly peaceful. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh thanked counter-protesters at a late afternoon press conference.
“I want to thank all the people that came out to share ... that message of love, not hate, to fight back on racism, to fight back on anti-Semitism, to fight back on the white supremacists that are coming to our city — on the Nazis that were coming to our city,” he said.
Although 33 people were arrested when scuffles broke out between small groups of counter-protesters and the police, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans also praised attendees.
“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people here were here for the right reason, and that is to fight bigotry and hate,” said Evans at the press conference.
As the last of the marchers passed her corner, Willams prepared to walk the few blocks back to her apartment. She said she was inspired by the overwhelming number of counter-protesters, but wonders if her kids will still be marching against racism and white supremacy when they have their own children.
“I hope that we don’t have to continue to keep marching,” she said. “We keep having to demonstrate for the same reasons that our grandparents did and we have to show we’re tired of this and move forward.”
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Today we reflect on the memory of Mike Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed black youth fatally shot six times, twice in the head, by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson. The 2014 shooting prompted protests across the nation for weeks. The gripping images of a blood-covered white sheet lying over his motionless body for hours will forever be etched in our memories. As will the image of another black mother with tears streaming down her face, grieving the loss of her son to this senseless yet all too common scenario.
Three years and many more police-involved shootings later, we ask ourselves, is this what public safety looks like in our communities?
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Akiel Denkins, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray are just some of the names of unarmed black boys and men who have lost their lives since Mike Brown’s death. Over and over, we are confronted by the horrifying images of black men killed by the police.
According to The Guardian’s “The Counted" initiative, in 2016 black males aged 15-34 were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by law enforcement officers. They were killed at four times the rate of young white men. This trend should have us all on edge given the call for more “tough on crime” responses from national and local policymakers.
Just two weeks ago, President Donald Trump encouraged a room of law enforcement authorities to not be “too nice” while transporting suspects. This quip drew laughter and cheers from officers in attendance. However, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and several local police departments quickly rebuked the statement. The Campaign For Youth Justice and 25 other organizations released a joint statement calling on police to commit to clear protocols and policies against the use of force in our communities.
Additionally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been an ardent defender of “get tough” practices from the 1990s. Sessions recently ordered federal prosecutors to seek the harshest possible penalty in all cases, no matter how minor, a practice that will send more Americans to prison without good reason.
These rollbacks are occurring on the state level as well, including in Michael Brown’s home state of Missouri.
In the same week that the NAACP issued a travel advisory, warning people of color that their civil rights could be violated in the state of Missouri, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens implemented a new anti-violence plan. The plan calls on highway patrol troopers to ramp up policing to combat urban crime, reopening historical tensions.
“We are looking for anything,” a Missouri state trooper recently told a Washington Post reporter, before pulling over a motorist for an expired license plate near downtown. “I don’t see how it can be detrimental having more law enforcement in an area that really needs more policing.”
As we reflect on the anniversary of Mike Brown's death and the subsequent deaths, the current climate in our country toward crime signals that we are headed in the wrong direction. Young men of color are much more likely to be profiled — and then subsequently, prosecuted, sentenced and incarcerated as adults in their communities than their white counterparts. Federal, state and local officials are calling on the police, those entrusted to protect and serve, to lead the charge against crime.
But is policing alone what public safety looks like in our communities? Many chiefs of police are calling for evidence-based practices, which include community policing strategies, a focus on prevention and referrals to other agencies and community organizations that are experts in mental health, substance abuse and defusing crises. Our caution is against embracing law enforcement as the only solution to crime; and in adopting a more militarized police force, particularly focused on low-income communities and communities of color.
We don’t want police in schools, driving our children to the courts for typical adolescent behavior. We don’t want police threatening to deport and separate immigrant families trying to live their lives in the United States. We don’t want all our resources poured into enforcement of the law at the cost of access to quality schools, career opportunities and access to public and mental health.
We recognize that law enforcement agencies are among the largest and most powerful bureaucracies in most localities. They intersect daily with our lives, especially in low-income communities and communities of color. They may be who we call first when trouble arises, but they are also armed and evoke fear in many communities across the country. At some point, we must question whether all this law enforcement is necessary. There is a significant imbalance in our current policing model, with far too much emphasis on law enforcement and not nearly enough on crime prevention.
We remember Mike Brown because his death should serve as a daily reminder of the very real work left undone. His memory serves as our invitation to help fix a broken system.
Aprill O. Turner is communications director for the Campaign for Youth Justice, a national initiative focused entirely on ending the practice of prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.