Monday, February 21, 2011

The Wisdom of our Mothers and Fathers

“Remove not the ancient landmarks for which our mothers and fathers set”
Proverbs 22: 28

As Black History Month for 2011 comes to a close we must keep our collective ears open to the voices of our cultural mothers and fathers whose wisdom is as relevant today as it was in the past. Their voices cry out for people of conscience, particularly African Americans to place justice and wisdom at the forefront of our family’s focus.

I watched with interest an airing of The Injustice Files last week on the Discovery Channel. The Injustice Files is the work of filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, producer of The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till and CBS EYE Productions, which reveal the circumstances of three racially motivated unsolved murders of African Americans prior to 1969. Brilliantly, Beauchamp weaved together whatever he could find—family interviews, police records, eye witnesses—into a compelling expose. The Injustice Files serves as much as a history lesson as it does to inspire people today to come forward with information that would lead to the prosecution of murders and the legal closure of countless of acts of racism and domestic terrorism.

Prior to the Injustice Files Beauchamp’s most critically acclaimed work brought new attention to the heinous murder of Emmett Till in 1955. Till, a 14-year old boy from Chicago was visiting relatives in rural Mississippi and allegedly flirtatiously whistled at a White woman—a cultural crime in the American deep south of 1955. The woman’s husband and brother-in-law took Emmett Till from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night.

The vicious torture and murder of Emmet Till, according to Mrs. Rosa Parks, inspired her to take a more active role in the Civil Rights Movement by refusing to surrender her seat to a White man (thus, challenging the application of federal law on buses in Montgomery, Alabama) just six months after Till’s victimization. As Mrs. Parks did in 1955, people of conscience today must pursue justice by reforming public policy.

The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007 was introduced to establish an Unsolved Crimes Section within the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. Since then, funding issues have stymied progress of the Act.

If “cold cases” such as the ones featured in The Injustice Files are to be solved federal legislation must have enforcement provisions to meaningfully aid prosecutors and families in court. In particular:
• Congress should appropriate funds necessary for fulfillment of Emmett Till Act
• Congressional oversight hearings are needed to examine activities of law enforcement officials relative to Emmett Till Act
• The relationship between federal and local prosecutors must be better defined
• The relationship between Ku Klux Klan members and local police and sheriffs must be revealed
• A “Family Bill of Rights” must be defined in information sharing between law enforcement officials and families
• Families must be given status updates on a regular basis by law enforcement officials
• A full accounting of unsolved disappearances, “accidents”, “suicides”, “self defense” must be compiled
• Cases determined “outside of jurisdiction” of Emmett Till Act must be covered by new legislation

Federal legislation must be matched by state, county, and municipal policy that emboldens prosecutors and families and imprisoned murderers. The collective voices of our ancestors direct us to pursue justice in unsolved murder cases.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reagan Robbed the Poor and Raised the Rich

Reagan Robbed the Poor and Raised the Rich

“…sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless…you might say, by choice”
President Ronald Reagan

Last week, many Americans celebrated the 100th year of President Ronald Wilson Reagan’s birth. In honoring Ronald Regan’s impact on the United States of America his policies have been mislabeled as good and positive. In reality, Reagan era policies have had a net negative on our nation and its promise to grant life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, regardless of color or cash in hand.

My mother always admonished me that if I did not have anything good to say about someone, then say nothing. Thus, Ronald Reagan made three significant contributions to public policy formation: 1) Projection of national pride, 2) Discipline of message. and 3) Generational training of young policy students. That said Reagan’s policy legacy leaves a lot to be desired.

As a high school student government leader in 1980, at the beginning of the
“Reagan Revolution”, I instinctively recognized that a massive cold front would be in the political forecast for many years. And I was correct.

Sure enough, in 1988, at the end of an 8-year Reagan Administration the nation was not better off for most Americans. In particular, Reagan and his cohorts:
• Dismantled labor unions
• Decreased living standards
• Deregulated financial industry
• Decreased wages by freezing minimum wage at $3.35 per hour for 8 years
• Increased gap between rich and poor
• Increased number of Americans in poverty
• Increased homelessness
• Appealed to racist people in America

In 1994, by my third year in college President Reagan had been re-elected to a second term. In doing so, he announced his plan for a second term in Philadelphia, Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair. As a student of civil rights history I was keenly aware of the secessionist symbolism of Philadelphia, MS as a chosen venue. In 1964, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner were brutally murdered while registering African American residents of Philadelphia to vote. Later, trial evidence would reveal that after leaving Meridian, MS the three civil rights workers were followed by Neshoba County Sheriffs and pulled over. Those present have testified that the Sheriff “released” the three only to be followed and murdered by a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen and other racists. The bodies Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner were found week later in the dirt of an earthen dam. With such a notorious history Ronald Reagan selected Neshoba County to launch his bid for re-election to the White House.

On Sunday, February 6, 2011 I read an article in The Nation written by Peter Dreier that compellingly drove the point of Reagan’s regressive public policy ideas. In response to Reagan supporters’ insistence that he was the “Great Communicator”, Dreier researched a quote from President Reagan in which he said, “I was not the ‘Great Communicator’ as much as I communicated great ideas.” Great ideas? Really?

I, like Peter Dreier, believe that great ideas should have positive outcomes. Not true in the Reagan repertoire. Dreier correctly concludes that today’s dismal economy and widening wealth gap are due, in large part, to the you-are-on-your-own political and policy choices of Ronald Reagan rather than mere social and economic forces.

Today, for example, Republican Governor Cristie decries “big government” as the reason states and local governments are facing budget deficits. Contrarily, it may well be the fact that under the Reagan Administration federal assistance by 60%, resulting in the elimination of revenue sharing to cities; cuts to funding for public service jobs; reduced funds for public transit; severely weakened legal services for the poor; anti-poverty programs; and lowered federal funding for Section 8 rent subsidies housing. Accordingly, as federal funds decreased, homelessness increased.

Today’s mindless mantra of Tea Party conservatives that “government is not a solution to our problem…government is the problem.” Actually, good governmental policies benefit society; and bad policy hurts future generations. As the Reagan Administration robbed the poor and raised the rich in the 1980’s, such policies continued in the 1990’s and 2000’s with the George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush Administrations.

In particular, the deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry by the Reagan Administration (with the help of Neil Bush—brother and son to presidents Bush) looted the S & L industry of $130 billion dollars. In turn, the Clinton Administration deregulated the banking industry by letting the Glass-Stegall Act expire. By 2008, the second Bush Administration had allowed American corporations to eliminate domestic jobs in return of international tax credits. Moreover, two undeclared wars had given obscene profits to war companies such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.

In short, Reagan Administration policies of the 1980’s penalized the poor and pumped up private profiteers, which are still reaping benefits, to the demise of the most Americans.

In linking leadership,

Gary L. Flowers
Executive Director & CEO
Black Leadership Forum, Inc.