This post is in affirmation of and response to Dr. Alan Bean’s blog on the Friends of Justice site, “‘The Power to Make Us One’: Heather McGhee’s One-People America.” In that post Dr. Bean acknowledges that racially charged language only serves to make white people defensive regarding the plight of black people in America, and thus is counterproductive in bringing about either racial reconciliation or the end to mass incarceration.
In the February 10th edition of The New York Times two entries caught my attention. One was an article by Sabrina Tavernise, “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” The finding of those studies, in a nutshell, is that the education gap between the children of well-off families, regardless of race, and poor families, regardless of race, is widening, while the education gap between the children of white families and black families is narrowing.
And it is well known that the level of education is a reliable predictor of income success or lack thereof.
The other was an op-ed piece by Paul Krugman, “Money and Morals.” Not surprisingly, Krugman argues that the big problem for working class families is not moral decay, but “A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.” Krugman states that “entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23% since 1970” when adjusted for inflation. To make matters worse, benefits have been drastically reduced. (more…)
No one can account for the dramatic drop in violent crime. According to the Washington Post, in 2011 the DC homicide rate reached its lowest point since 1963. But just across the county line, the homicide rate is experiencing an upswing. When violent crime drops there is always a reason. When gang-related violence plunged in Fort Worth, TX, a big part of the reason was the Rev. W.G. Daniels.
America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities. There’s the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There’s the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets. There’s the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice in response to the first two problems. And there’ the worsening racial divide that’s causing.
In Fort Worth, Pastor W.G. Daniels stopped the violence by forging a creative dialogue between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violent crime. A former police officer who understood the law enforcement mindset, Daniels made the perfect peacemaker. He knew why his neighbors didn’t want to talk to the police, but he also understood why law enforcement will always concentrate on high crime communities. Daniels didn’t want the police to ignore the hot neighborhoods; he just wanted them to show more respect and professionalism.
Getting gang members, community members and the police on the same page isn’t easy, but it can be done. As Daniels once told the Star-Telegram:
You had gangs like the Crips and the Bloods fighting against each other, but after we conducted a survey, we found that there just needed to be somebody to bring a truce to stop the madness and no better people to do it than pastors who meet every Sunday. We needed to send a message that it would not be tolerated, and by the help of God and Christ we were able to bring about peace.
When people are talking to one another behavior changes. Open air drug markets move underground, police officers feel more appreciated and behave with a higher level of professionalism, residents of high crime neighborhoods gain a new sense of confidence and self-respect. Criminologist David Kennedy and pastor W.G. Daniels heal communities because they understand the spiritual nature of the war they are fighting. (more…)
There is a lot to like about Ron Paul. He opposes the war on drugs; he is anti-war, and he doesn’t like the Patriot Act. Who could ask for anything more?
If you believe Adele M. Stan, progressives should be asking for much, much more. Ron Paul’s libertarianism may overlap with the progressive agenda at important points, but it flows from a entirely different source. Stan associates Paul with the anti-civil rights John Birch Society as well as the modern Reconstruction movement. My research has reached similar conclusions.
Progressives contend that we’re all in this thing together; Libertarians say we’re all on our own. Progressivism is consistent with religious altruism; libertarianism logically tends toward the moral nihilism of Ayn Rand. A philosophical difference that great can’t be mended with duct tape and baling wire. Friends of Justice endorses a Common Peace Agenda that embraces the legitimate rights and needs of all people. We aren’t satisfied with simply ending the war on drugs or reducing the size of the prison population; we seek what Martin Luther King Jr. called The Beloved Community.
Those in search of the common good must choose their coalition partners with great care. We don’t have to agree on every point, but we must be working toward the same broad goal. What kind of America are we trying to create? AGB (more…)
In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels. Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.
If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium. Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it. We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.
To the surprise of no one, the students of Arlington were once again denied a May holiday honoring civil rights legend Cesar Chavez.
Last night’s meeting of the Arlington ISD school board reminded me of the climactic scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. An all-white jury convicts the black defendant even though the case against him has crumbled to dust. As the article below suggests, last night’s decision was a foregone conclusion.
Last year, the statements of support for a Chavez holiday, mine included, were polite and deferential. This year was different.
I used my five minutes to address the elephant in the room. The school board trustees are both politicians and public servants, I said. There is no political upside to voting to rename a generic “May holiday” in honor of Chavez. The majority of voters in Arlington have little interest in honoring a Latino icon, and many would staunchly oppose the move. This is, after all, one of the most conservative demographics in America.
On the other hand, 65% of the students (and therefore a solid majority of the parents) are people of color who would love to see Chavez honored. There is a disconnect between the political imperative to please the voters and the moral imperative to do what’s best for the children. The heart sides with the kids; the head craves political security. (more…)
I have been inspired by the story about how Elizabeth Eckford (the black woman walking stoically into Little Rock’s Central High School in 1959) and Hazel Bryan (the white woman in the rear screaming, “Go home to Africa, nigger!”) had bridged the racial divide and become best friends.
Not surprisingly, it isn’t that simple.
Racial reconciliation comes hard. Everybody needs to feel good about their people, their heritage, their roots. At least Sir Walter Scott thought so:
Breathes there there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no minstrel raptures swell . . .
African Americans and American whites, particularly in the South, have a hard time feeling good about their ethnic heritage. Few Black Americans chose to come to this country. In most cases, their ancestors were hunted down like dogs, manacled, separated from family, culture and religion, stowed into the hulls of slave ships, transported across the Atlantic ocean, and put to work under the lash beneath a blazing son. The Emancipation Proclamation hardly improved their lot. In its own strange way, Jim Crow was every bit as degrading as slavery. (more…)
How do we organize in a world of steadily declining resources? It isn’t just that non-profit organizations are struggling to stay afloat; the economy of the United States has entered a period of decline that will not end in your lifetime or mine. Dissidents are good at critiquing what is; we aren’t always adept at anticipating what will be. We can no longer proscribe solutions rooted in the assumption of ever-expanding national wealth. Storm clouds are gathering on the economic horizon. (more…)
I have been too busy to blog this week, but I couldn’t resist this story. You may ask what a royal tour has to do with criminal justice reform. Very little, I expect, although I am clever enough to come up with something if I had a mind to.
I am blogging about Kate and William’s royal tour because it pleases me.
For one thing, Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne a few years before I was born and, though I am 58 years old, she has been the only British monarch I have known. When you grow up singing "God save our gracious Queen, long live our noble Queen, God save the Queen(to the tune of My Country ‘Tis of Thee) it gets into your bones (whether you like it or not).
This lovely photographic essay from the Washington Post shows the royal couple taking in a little calf roping at the Calgary Stampede and attending the Dene Games in Yellowknife, in the Northwest Territories. I was born in Calgary in 1953 and the Bean family moved to Yellowknife three years later. I remember my dad taking my sister and I to the Calgary Stampede during a summer vacation when I was a little kid. He wouldn’t spring for cowboy boots, but I did get a cowboy hat, and I wore it to bed that night.
I remember William’s grandfather, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, creating quite a stir a generation ago when he was presented with the inevitable cowboy hat during a visit to Calgary. “Thank you very much," said the Prince. “I think I have six or seven of these now. Perhaps I’ll use this one for a planter.”
That didn’t go down well in Cow Town.
There is another story about Prince Phillip dining at Calgary’s glorious Palicer Hotel back in the mid fifties (when he was about the age William is now). According to legend, a hotel waitress, while removing Phillip’s dinner plate, whispered, “Keep your fork, Prince, we’re havin’ pie.”
I don’t get back to Canada much these days. My parents are both long dead and my sister, Carol, spends half the year in Texas. But everyone needs a sense of home, and places like Calgary, Edmonton and Yellowknife are about as close as I can get. A return visit to Yellowknife after almost fifty years is high on my bucket list.
Last year, while in Calgary for the funeral of my aunt, Iris Garner, I stopped by the old home of the now defunct Baptist Leadership Training School, an institution I attended in 1971. It had been fully forty years since I last walked to the nearby park overlooking the gorgeous Bow River valley. The view of the river hadn’t changed a bit, but I hardly resembled the callow youth who once looked out over the scene. I have rarely felt more orphaned and adrift.
So I guess, in the end, these rambling thoughts do relate to this blog’s primary theme. Everybody needs a sense of place, everybody needs to belong to a people. Friends of Justice works in the American South, a region occupied by rooted people with a strong sense of belonging. What happens when a proud people is made synonymous with bigotry and hate? Issues of culpability aside, how deep does the fear, loss and resentment go?
The spirit and spirituality of mass incarceration is a plant native to the southland that has been nourished for decades by the deepest kind of alienation and outrage. People felt as if the glorious narrative that had given them a sense of people and place had been desecrated. The sense of loss was palpable. This is why Ronald Reagan launched his election campaign in 1980 in Neshoba County, the place where, 16 years earlier, three civil rights leaders had been murdered. Reagan was opposed to the civil rights movement, but he was hardly a son of the South. His advisers knew, however, that a rich deposit of racial resentment was waiting to be mined in places like Neshoba County. People had lost their story and they desperately wanted it back. Reagan promised to deliver. The promise was kept.
I understand these emotions. I grew up in one country and I live in another. Calgary, Alberta and Fort Worth Texas have a lot in common, but I never really feel at home in Texas. Nor would I feel at home if I returned to my native Canada. Like Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.”
When Tea Partiers say they want their country back they are longing for an old, old story. They want to feel part of an exceptional, virtuous and boot-leather-tough nation where everyone shares the same values and pursues the same goals. That kind of America never existed in reality; but it lives in memory nonetheless. The nation people want to regain exists in the form of narrative mythology, and this story about restoring a noble, resolute and unified America is the most potent force in contemporary politics.
There is no sense decrying or endlessly deconstructing the narrative that animates our ideological opposites. We need a narrative of our own. We don’t need a story about the nation we once were; we need a story about the nation the better angels of our national nature have always aspired to be. We need to start talking about a country where there is no us and them; a nation where there are no surplus, throw-away people.
We need to start talking about a nation of broken people where broken people can be redeemed.
According to reporter Jeremy van Loon, Prince William characterized Canada as that kind of country.
Prince William praised Canada’s “extraordinary potential” and the nation’s values of “freedom and compassion” at the end of a nine-day tour of the country with his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge. “Canada is not just a great union of provinces and territories, it is a great union of peoples from many different backgrounds who have come together to make this a model — and a magnet — for those who value freedom, enterprise, tolerance and compassion,” he said today in Calgary.
I’m not sure Canada, or any other country, deserves such high praise. The prince was being complimentary. But don’t we want to live in that kind of country? When we tap into that desire, the movement to end mass incarceration will begin.
In a recent post, I suggested that Carrollton, Mississippi, a town that proudly flies the Conderate flag outside its courthouse, reflects the soul of America. Charles Kiker, my esteemed father-in-law, calls that an overstatement. This op-ed from Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick illuminates my audacious thesis. As Patrick notes, small government fundamentalism has captured the conservative movement and, to a large extent, the conservative movement has captured American politics.
True, a Democrat is in the White House and the Senate remains blue. But anyone who listened to President Obama trying to adopt a tough stance with Republicans the other day will realize that Grover Norquist’s intention has been realized: Democratic presidents can no longer govern as Democrats. Obama was trying to come on strong, but he sounded scared to death. Conservatives control the moral consensus of the nation and the President knows it. (more…)
The talking heads say that federal and state governments are hamstrung by the debt crisis. Most criminal justice reformers have decided to make the most of a bad situation. State and federal governments can’t afford to lock up so many people, the argument goes, because there is no money in the bank.
Short-term, this is probably a good strategy. Governments are drowning in debt and mass incarceration is gobbling up an ever-increasing slice of tax revenues. In the long run, however, the “we can’t afford to pay for mass incarceration” arguments won’t work. (more…)