Wednesday, July 03, 2013

We Celebrate The 4th Of July & Juneteenth, But We're Not Really Free

Juneteenth, The 4th of July And Black “Free”dom

As many of us know, Juneteenth reached its 148th anniversary two weeks ago, celebrating the freedom of those that were enslaved. Juneteenth is widely recognized by African Americans as the day the union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and received word that they were now free. The importance of this date in history is that the news of their freedom came two years AFTER President Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Juneteenth is celebrated by many African Americans all over the world, as it has become a longstanding tradition. And then we have Independence Day, commonly known as the 4th of July, a federal holiday that commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in which the U.S. declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain; another holiday also celebrated by many African Americans. These two nationally recognized days deal with freedom, but with our current times, and the current state of black America, one has to wonder, what are we really celebrating and just how free are we?

Mass Incarceration

Michelle Alexander enlightened us about the state of African Americans and prisons by saying, "Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives."

But what has led to so many African Americans being under correctional control? The simple answer, the ‘War on Drugs’. The more complex answer is racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentences.

War on Drugs

African American make up a mere 13% of the US population and 13% of drug users, however, they make up 38 percent of those arrested for drug law violations and 59% of those convicted of drug law violation.

When it comes to the war on drugs, there is significant racial bias when police are making arrests. The ACLU has found that, despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are nearly 4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana. Last month the New York Times pointed out that there are federal programs in place that are providing incentives to law enforcement for racial profiling. Federal dollars are literally being awarded to states or precincts that produce the “right” numbers.

Zero-Tolerance Policies

In schools, our children’s freedom is challenged by zero-tolerance policies that restrict our students from making mistakes in a learning environment. A prime example of this is 16 year old Kiera Wilmot who was arrested and charged with two felonies and expelled from school after a science project that went wrong, in which no one was harmed and no damage occurred.

The implementations of zero-tolerance policies have had a negative and disproportionate impact on black students. A 2008 study in Florida found that Black students were two and half more times likely to be referred to the judicial system. Those studies also found Black students more likely than whites to be suspended, expelled and sentenced to jail time for infractions that take place on school grounds.

These types of harsher disciplinary actions have been linked to a higher rate of high school dropouts who, in turn, are more likely to become incarcerated. Black students only make up 16% of the nation’s population but account for 45% of juvenile arrests.

School Closings

This year has dealt a devastating blow to public education as we have watched mass school closings hit Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia. 28 schools are now closed in Chicago, 23 are closing in Philly and 26 are to be closed in NYC. It should be no surprise that blacks students were the impacted most as 43% of all Chicago students are black, 58% of all Philly students are black and 30% of all NYC students are black.
What happens when public schools close in poor neighborhoods of color? Students are forced to cross gang territories to get to their news schools and relationships and rapport between students and their teachers are broken, often times causing disruption to their learning process.
Voting Rights Act
Last week the Supreme Court struck down a key section, section 4, of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Section 4 deals with a coverage formula to determine which jurisdictions will be subject to pre-clearance requirements in section 5. Pre-clearance mean that certain jurisdictions (mainly those in southern states) must receive federal permission before changing any law related to voting. The reason for this is due to the racial discrimination that black voters received in the past. In the 60’s, poll taxes and literary tests were put in place to deter and bar black citizens from voting. While we no longer have poll taxes and literary tests, we still have political groups creating various voter ID laws and suppression tactics to silence our vote, and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike section 4 means that these southern states can now enact new laws to make it difficult for our voices to be heard at the polls. Since the decision has been passed, both Texas and North Carolina have wasted no time implementing new voter ID laws and ending long standing voting practices that have been popular with black voters.
Are we truly “free”?
Physically, yes, most of us are free. So, celebrate your freedom; your ability to move around, purchase what you want, live where you want etc, but remember the systems in place (mass incarceration, the war on drugs, zero tolerance policies, the plight of public education) that are still keeping us bound.
Having more African Americans under correctional control now than were enslaved in the 1850’s is NOT freedom. African Americans being nearly 4 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession is NOT freedom. Dismantling public education on the backs of poor black students is NOT freedom. Eliminating section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, a key part of the civil rights movement, is NOT freedom.
The truth is we are not as free as we’d like to believe as long as our civil rights are constantly being infringed upon and challenged.
If we believe that our humanity and well-being is intertwined with one another, then none of us can truly be free unless all of us are free.

Twitter: @SoulRevision

Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Are Student Loan Interest Rates Doubling?

Student interest rates are likely to DOUBLE on Monday!
But what does this mean? Who does this affect? Why is this happening?
Allow me to explain in the simplest way possible …
Friday (today) is the LAST day that college students can get a federal student loan with a 3.4% interest rate. On July 1, interest rates will double to 6.8%.
What loans will be affected by the interest rate increase?
Only interest rates on subsidized Stafford Loans will double. These are loans for undergraduate students only and they don’t accumulate any interest while the student is in college.
Whose interest rates will go up?
College students applying for subsidized Stafford Loans after July 1. The rate hike will not affect those who already have existing Stafford loans, however, Congress’ joint economic committee has estimated that this increase will cost the average student about $2,600 and there are 7 million students who rely on these loans to pay for their education.
Why is this happening?
Last year the interest rates were set to increase on July 1; in order to prevent this from happening, Congress and the President passed a bill that extended the 3.4% interest rate for another year. This meant that congress had a full year (from June 2012 – June 2013) to come up with an agreement to prevent this increase from happening again.
Republicans came up with a bill to tie federal student loan interest rates to the cost of government borrowing which means the interest rates would fluctuate each year based on the economy.
Democrats wanted to extend the 3.4% interest rate again until congress could reform the law that deals with federal student loans.
Needless to say, neither party agreed on the others’ solution and this is why interest rates will increase on July 1.
Is there anything I can do?
Yes! You can press your members of congress to do something when they get back from vacation. Let them know how much education means to you and others, and that financial support is necessary and should be provided with decent interest rates. You can Send an email to Congress or you can call Congress
Is there hope?
Possibly. Congress can very well come back after their vacation, reach an agreement and retroact it, but that’s not a guarantee.

Twitter: @SoulRevision

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Rulings Explained

The Supreme Court made some historic changes to a couple of national cases this week and it’s important that you know what their rulings mean.

Voting Rights Act (VRA) Ruling
In a 5-4 vote, Supreme Court Justices struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, ruling it as unconstitutional.

What does this VRA ruling mean?

According to the Washington Post Section 4 of the VRA creates a formula that determines what states should be subject to Section 5, which requires states to submit any changes to election or voting laws, or alterations of state legislative or congressional district lines, to the Justice Department for approval. (That process is commonly known as pre-clearance.) That formula was — until today — based on a) states that had used some sort of ballot test (literacy being the main one) to determine whether people can vote and b) whether less than 50 percent of eligible voters were registered to vote by November 1964. In essence, states and counties with a history of racial discrimination were required to seek pre-clearance. 

With no Section 4 — the Court asked Congress to determine a new formula — there is no section 5, according to a Democratic election lawyer who was granted anonymity to speak candidly.  ”Unless Congress creates a new coverage formula, Section 5 is not in force,” said the source. In essence, the Court said that the Justice Department still has the right to approve of line-drawing under the VRA but by invalidating the formula for determining what states/counties are subject to the VRA they made that power moot.

In short, New voter ID laws can take effect (w/o approval of the federal government) that will likely suppress minority voters.

Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) Ruling
In a 5-4 vote, Supreme Court Justices struck down the Defense Of Marriage Act, ruling it as unconstitutional.

What does this DOMA ruling mean?
Federal marriage benefits are now extended to those in same-sex marriages.

Prop 8 Ruling
In a 5-4 vote, Supreme Court Justices rule Prop 8 has no standing

What does this Prop 8 ruling mean?
Same-sex marriage is now legal in the state California

Twitter: @SoulRevision

A 16yr old Black Girl, The Criminalization Of Students And The Push For STEM Studies

On Monday, April 22, 2013, Kiera Wilmot went to school and mixed "The Works" toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a water bottle she brought from home. The outcome was a small "explosion" causing the top of the bottle to pop off which resulted in no damage and no injury to anyone.

According to the police report, an officer was called to the school and Kiera was arrested and taken off campus to a Juvenile Assessment Center. The arresting officer contacted the Assistant State Attorney, Tammy Glotfelty, who instructed him to charge Kiera with  possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. Kiera has been expelled from school, will complete her diploma through an expulsion program and will ultimately be tried as an adult. But does the punishment fit the "crime"? And how does this incident fit into the criminalization of students and the push for STEM (science, technology engineering and math) studies?

We can't solely look at Keira's failed science experiment as an isolated incident. What happened to Kiera calls into question a larger problem, that of the Zero Tolerance policies and school-based arrests that have been implemented in schools throughout the U.S. and have ultimately criminalized students, particularly students of color.

A report released by The Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles Civil Rights Project, in April shows the increasing gap between suspension rates of black and white students. According to the reportOne million, or one in nine, middle school and high school students were suspended in 2009-2010, including 24 percent of black students and 7.1 percent of white students. The increase use of suspension in schools makes it increasingly difficult for students to receive a quality education and research has shown that being suspended even once in ninth grade is associated with a 32% risk for dropping out.

How can we expect students to go to school and learn when they are constantly at risk of being suspended for small infractions? 

Kiera's situation also brings to mind the push for women in STEM. We have said time and time again, there's an underrepresentation of African American female students in STEM fields some of which are due to exclusions, mis-opportunities and under-education within K-12. We are constantly encouraging and urging our young African American women to explore these fields, and one has, and now she's facing multiple felonies for it. 

We cannot promote academic excellence and condemn the process by which that excellence can be achievedAfter all, the purpose of going to school is to learn and making mistakes is a part of the learning process.

Twitter: @SoulRevision

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dear Thurgood Marshall Jr, Why Are You On The Board Of Directors For CCA?

This serves as both an open letter to Thurgood Marshall Jr, a PSA for those who didn’t know about his appointment to CCA and a reminder about mass incarceration, and the overrepresentation of black men in prison.

It came as a complete and utter shock to discover yesterday that Thurgood Marshall Jr, son of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and lawyer best known for his victory in Brown v. Board of Education, sits on the Board of Directors for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison owning company in the United States.
“What’s the big deal?” you ask? Well, in order to understand the irony we must look at the incarceration rates of black men, private prisons and CCA.

We’ve heard the informative and compelling words of Michelle Alexander many times over the last couple of years as she has stated, “Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control.

African Americans only account for 13.6% of the U.S. population, but 40 percent of the vast prison population (over 2.5 million) is black. In 2010, black males were incarcerated at the rate of 4,347 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents of the same race and gender, compared to 678 inmates per 100,000 for white males. The disparities in the prison population are absolutely devastating, especially when factoring in that the majority of the individuals in U.S. prisons are guilty of minor drug offenses.

What role does CCA play in all of this?

CCA is the largest private prison owning company in the United States and has amassed a fortune (reportedly earning $1.7 billion a year) by incarcerating people of color, namely African Americans. CCA has had so much success that in 2012 they sent proposal letters to prison officials in 48 states offering to purchase and manage public prisons at a substantial cost savings to the states. In exchange for their purchase, the proposal states that the prisons must include 1,000 beds and states must agree to maintain a 90% occupancy rate in the privately run prisons for the term of the contract, 20 years.

How does one ensure a 90% occupancy rate for 20 years? How is this ethical? WHO will be among the 90%? Looking at the current laws that increase our prison populations, the laws that ensure occupancy rates (three-strikes law) and our failed war on drugs and unjust sentencing, we can ascertain that a large percent of that occupancy rate will consist of black men.

According to the Illinois Disproportionate Justice Impact Study Commission, in some states, like Illinois, African Americans are eight times more likely to be incarcerated for a petty drug offense than white people, even though African Americans and white people consume and distribute drugs at similar rates.

At this point I’m not sure what’s more disturbing, the fact that Thurgood Marshall Jr has been on CCA’s board since 2003 or his statement in 2004 regarding his father in which he said, "I also like to think of his legacy as one of encouraging lawyers of every color to contribute their skills to society." I wasn’t aware that this meant using your skills to contribute to the mass incarceration of black men throughout the U.S. As an attorney, and one whose father helped set the tone for civil rights, I would think this meant using your skills to help fight AGAINST the prison industrial complex and the devastating toll it’s taken on the black family, not aid it.

Having all this information, carrying your fathers last name and legacy, I must ask, are you betting on or against black men?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day - Action Must Replace Silence & Stigma

"When looking at HIV/AIDS by race and ethnicity alone, Blacks have more illness and more deaths than any other group.  Blacks represent 13% of the U.S. population and account for 44% of all new HIV infections and 46% of people living with HIV.  Survival time after an AIDS diagnosis is lower on average than it is for most other racial/ethnic groups.  Blacks accounted for 57% of HIV-related deaths in 2006."
"Why aren’t more people angry that our young people are getting minimal education/information that can prevent new HIV infections? Where has all the money for prevention interventions, treatment and care gone? Where have all the collective action and zeal from the beginning of the epidemic gone?"
A critical mass is needed to change the course of HIV in Black America—schools, churches, civic organizations are all important partners in this effort. I’m committed to doing everything I can and encourage you to join me as we get to Zero New Infections."
Read Stephanie's full post here National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day