Commentary Race

The Quality of Black Lives Matters Too

Regina Mahone

#BlackSpring is here: the uprisings happening in cities nationwide as part of a collective fight for racial justice in all areas of Black lives.

#BlackSpring is here: the uprisings happening in cities nationwide as part of a collective fight for racial justice in all areas of Black lives. As Alicia Garza, special projects director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-creator of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, explained to NewsOne, “There is a Black Spring that is emerging where communities that have been under the boot of police terrorism, communities that have been attacked by poverty and unemployment are rising up, coming together and advancing new solutions and new visions and new demands to create a new world where Black peoples’ lives matter.”

As a Black woman who was raised by a single mother, I understand how racial justice is connected to the labor movement—along with other movements, such as reproductive justice, that fall under the human rights “umbrella.” But for some people, mostly conservatives, the multiplicity of efforts becomes a bridge too far. (Remember the criticism advocates in Ferguson received from Republican leaders for setting up voter registration tables near Michael Brown’s memorial?) Part of the reason for this pushback is because critics don’t see people of color, Black women in particular, as whole persons. They still see us as props whose lives and stories are not acknowledged at best, and exploited at worst. We’ve watched this happen not only in the mainstream labor movements, but also in conversations around the uprisings, as if it weren’t our DNA staining the concrete in our communities.

And such public criticism can, in turn, foster doubt among leaders unfamiliar with this tactic. This was apparent at a recent Black workers’ event in New York City, where a labor union advocate asked: Are we changing the subject too quickly when we try to engage folks on economic concerns without first tackling police brutality and racial profiling?

The panelists at the event, which was organized to celebrate the launch of a new report on Black labor, were quick to explain the historical and political contexts in which these movements live, and how activists do more harm than good by “pitting our crumbs against others’ crumbs,” as Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), put it.

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Rather than the movements acting in opposition, Black leaders—particularly Black women—have been at the forefront of both for decades. That’s one of the reasons why the report in question, And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power, Promise, by Kimberly Freeman Brown, is so powerful: It’s the first of its kind to document Black women labor leaders’ experiences. It’s awe-inspiring to see women who look like me and to read their stories about their labor, which crosses many fronts, on the printed pages of the report.

In an Rewire interview with both Brown and the director of the project, Marc Bayard, Brown noted that it’s no accident “that you have women who are connected to the labor movement” like Garza, who appears in And Still I Rise, “playing such important, critical roles in the emerging, new civil rights movement.”

“Their experience is as Black women who … sit at the nexus of all these different levels of injustice that gave rise to these movements,” said Brown.

“One of the things we talked about throughout the project is the fact that Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, are both union members. So there’s always been in our consciousness this recognition that Black working moms contend with realities that we’re all bearing witness to,” Brown added.

History also shows us how intricately woven these two movements are, specifically the history of policing in this country. As Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now noted at the Black workers’ event, the police state is inextricably tied to institutionalized economic injustice and the continued marginalization of racially segregated communities.

Slave patrols were put in place in the 18th and 19th centuries, which, as Eastern Kentucky University’s Victor E. Kappeler, PhD, has noted, “helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.” Those “patrollers” would chastise slaves but not face any punishment by courts at the time for killing a slave, though historians have noted that slave owners would sometimes retaliate against a patroller if the officer harmed their slave to the point where she couldn’t work. After all, slavery was a billion-dollar industry in this country. In a recent talk at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates explained:

In 1860, at the time of Civil War, the enslaved black population in this country—one-third of which constituted the amount of people living in the South—was worth something on the order of $3 billion, more than all the combined capacity of the nation. All the assets, all the banks, all the railroads, all the nascent factories and businesses in this country put together, were worth less than enslaved black people in this country.

Today, Black bodies are valuable to the police state via the prison-industrial complex—and these modern day “slave patrols” are still killing us without facing penalty. The fact that police are part of the labor movement only adds to the economic injustice furthered by racialized police abuse. As Flint Taylor wrote for In These Times:

Whether unions which represent police officers, correctional guards and other law enforcement officers are the same kind of workers’ organizations as other unions, which can potentially be used to further the interests of the working class as a whole, has been vigorously contested by many progressives and leftists over the years. But the disturbing history of these powerful organizations makes it very clear that they mirror and reinforce the most racist, brutal and reactionary elements within the departments they claim to represent and actively encourage the code of silence within those departments. They are far from democratic, with officers of color and women having little or no influence.

At the Black workers’ event, Lola Smallwood Cuevas of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center suggested participants close our eyes and picture victims of police violence—such as Chicago’s Rekia Boyd, Cleveland’s Tanisha Anderson, Ferguson’s Michael Brown, or Madison’s Tony Robinson—wearing construction hard hats. She invited us to imagine if Black people were seen by officers in this light, the way that their people see them: as allies and friends.

One could also look at the history of the civil rights movement in this country, specifically the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, to see how the labor and racial justice movements are connected. “The civil rights movement was every part an education justice movement, every part an economic justice movement, and every part a women’s rights movement as it was about the civil rights of Black folks,” Epps-Addison told Rewire in a phone interview. “They were talking about all of these things, and people forget that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while standing with striking sanitation workers.” It may not always be easy to talk simultaneously about both the struggles of labor and the fight for racial justice with our communities today, but history shows us Black communities have connected them all along.

“Asserting that Black lives matter also means that the quality of those lives matters,” explained #BlackWorkersMatter, a report from the Discount Foundation on the state of Black labor. “Economic opportunity is inextricably linked to the quality of the lives lived by blacks in America.”

More Black working people than whites are unemployed in the United States. Cuevas, in a piece for the Huffington Post, wrote that the crisis is more than just the economy: “It’s the lack of power. No matter how ‘strong’ the economy, we are disproportionately unemployed and in low-wage jobs.”

And Still I Rise called it a “leadership opportunity problem,” in which too few Black women, who are often heads of households, are put into leadership positions in unions. “Because of their unique position at the nexus of a number of progressive movements, Black labor women have the potential to play an even broader role in uniting the labor, civil rights and women’s movements,” the report read. Its author also suggests creating a leadership pipeline to prepare Black women for key staff positions and boards of directors of progressive organizations, which could effectively change the tide from the top to the bottom. We saw that happen in Baltimore when the city’s prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, a Black woman, brought charges against six officers who were involved with the deadly arrest of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.

In the meantime, Black leaders of the labor movement have been organizing in their communities to fight police violence while demanding economic justice, which they view as integral to disrupting the systemic abuses of power and privilege in our society. Marc Bayard told Rewire that “the connection is very clear amongst the activists, and they don’t see the separation of the movements.” And yet, as Melissa Harris-Perry reminded us at the event, even this work is still only part of the full picture, which also includes reproductive justice, voting rights, gun control, education, health care, LGBTQ rights, and so on. The youth-led actions taking place in cities nationwide are taking such an approach—but we are all accountable.

“If Black lives matter then Black wages have to matter, then reproductive justice for Black women has to matter, then all Black lives have to matter, not just some Black lives,” said Epps-Addison.

No matter how we engage people on these issues, #BlackSpring is here. And as Dr. King said in his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point …. We’ve got to see it through.”

Commentary Politics

Is Clinton a Progressive? Not If She Chooses Tim Kaine

Jodi Jacobson

The selection of Tim Kaine as vice president would be the first signal that Hillary Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton has frequently claimed to be a progressive, though she often adds the unnecessary and bewildering caveat that she’s a “progressive who likes to get things done.” I’ve never been sure what that is supposed to mean, except as a possible prelude to or excuse for giving up progressive values to seal some unknown deal in the future; as a way of excusing herself from fighting for major changes after she is elected; or as a way of saying progressives are only important to her campaign until after they leave the voting booth.

One of the first signals of whether Clinton actually believes in a progressive agenda will be her choice of running mate. Reports are that Sen. Tim Kaine, former Virginia governor, is the top choice. The selection of Kaine would be the first signal that Clinton intends to seek progressive votes but ignore progressive values and goals, likely at her peril, and ours.

We’ve seen this happen before. In 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama claimed to be a progressive. By virtue of having a vision for and promise of real change in government and society, and by espousing transparency and responsibility, he won by a landslide. In fact, Obama even called on his supporters, including the millions activated by the campaign’s Organizing for Action (OFA), to keep him accountable throughout his term. Immediately after the election, however, “progressives” were out and the right wing of the Democratic party was “in.”

Obama’s cabinet members in both foreign policy and the economy, for example, were drawn from the center and center-right of the party, leaving many progressives, as Mother Jones’ David Corn wrote in the Washington Post in 2009, “disappointed, irritated or fit to be tied.” Obama chose Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, a man with a reputation from the days of Bill Clinton’s White House for a reluctance to move bold policies—lest they upset Wall Street or conservative Democrats—and a deep disdain for progressives. With Emanuel as gatekeeper of policies and Valerie Jarrett consumed with the “Obama Brand” (whatever that is), the White House suddenly saw “progressives” as the problem.

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It became clear that instead of “the change we were hoping for,” Obama had started on an impossible quest to “cooperate” and “compromise” on bad policies with the very party that set out to destroy him before he was even sworn in. Obama and Emanuel preempted efforts to push for a public option for health-care reform, despite very high public support at the time. Likewise, the White House failed to push for other progressive policies that would have been a slam dunk, such as the Employee Free Choice Act, a major goal of the labor movement that would have made it easier to enroll workers in unions. With a 60-vote Democratic Senate majority, this progressive legislation could easily have passed. Instead, the White House worked to support conservative Democrat then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s efforts to kill it, and even sent Vice President Joe Biden to Arkansas to campaign for her in her run for re-election. She lost anyway.

They also allowed conservatives to shelve plans for an aggressive stimulus package in favor of a much weaker one, for the sole sake of “bipartisanship,” a move that many economists have since criticized for not doing enough.  As I wrote years ago, these decisions were not only deeply disappointing on a fundamental level to those of us who’d put heart and soul into the Obama campaign, but also, I personally believe, one of the main reasons Obama later lost the midterms and had a hard time governing.  He was not elected to implement GOP lite, and there was no “there, there” for the change that was promised. Many people deeply devoted to making this country better for working people became fed up.

Standing up for progressive principles is not so hard, if you actually believe in them. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D- MA) is a progressive who actually puts her principles into action, like the creation against all odds in 2011 of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, perhaps the single most important progressive achievement of the past 20 years. Among other things, the CFPB  shields consumers from the excesses of mortgage lenders, student loan servicers, and credit card companies that have caused so much economic chaos in the past decade. So unless you are more interested in protecting the status quo than addressing the root causes of the many problems we now face, a progressive politician would want a strong progressive running mate.

By choosing Tim Kaine as her vice president, Clinton will signal that she values progressives in name and vote only.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, Kaine is “setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.” Kaine is in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement largely negotiated in secret and by corporate lobbyists. Both Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose voters Clinton needs to win over, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren oppose the TPP because, in Warren’s words, it “would tilt the playing field even more in favor of … big multinational corporations and against working families.”

The progressive agenda includes strong emphasis on effective systems of governance and oversight of banks and financial institutions—the actors responsible, as a result of deregulation, for the major financial crises of the past 16 years, costing the United States trillions of dollars and gutting the financial security of many middle-class and low-income people.

As Warren has stated:

Washington turned a blind eye as risks were packaged and re-packaged, magnified, and then sold to unsuspecting pension funds, municipal governments, and many others who believed the markets were honest. Not long after the cops were blindfolded and the big banks were turned loose, the worst crash since the 1930s hit the American economy—a crash that the Dallas Fed estimates has cost a collective $14 trillion. The moral of this story is simple: Without basic government regulation, financial markets don’t work. That’s worth repeating: Without some basic rules and accountability, financial markets don’t work. People get ripped off, risk-taking explodes, and the markets blow up. That’s just an empirical fact—clearly observable in 1929 and again in 2008. The point is worth repeating because, for too long, the opponents of financial reform have cast this debate as an argument between the pro-regulation camp and the pro-market camp, generally putting Democrats in the first camp and Republicans in the second. But that so-called choice gets it wrong. Rules are not the enemy of markets. Rules are a necessary ingredient for healthy markets, for markets that create competition and innovation. And rolling back the rules or firing the cops can be profoundly anti-market.

If Hillary Clinton were actually a progressive, this would be key to her agenda. If so, Tim Kaine would be a curious choice as VP, and a middle finger of sorts to those who support financial regulations. In the past several weeks, Kaine has been publicly advocating for greater deregulation of banks. As Carter reported yesterday, “Kaine signed two letters on Monday urging federal regulators to go easy on banks―one to help big banks dodge risk management rules, and another to help small banks avoid consumer protection standards.”

Kaine is also trying to portray himself as “anti-choice lite.” For example, he recently signed onto the Women’s Health Protection Act. But as we’ve reported, as governor of Virginia, Kaine supported restrictions on abortion, such as Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law, which, he claimed in 2008, gave “women information about a whole series of things, the health consequences, et cetera, and information about adoption.” In truth, the information such laws mandate giving out is often “irrelevant or misleading,” according to the the Guttmacher Institute. In other words, like many others who let ideology rather than public health guide their policy decisions, Kaine put in place policies that are not supported by the evidence and that make it more difficult for women to gain access to abortion, steps he has not denounced. This is unacceptable. The very last thing we need is another person in the White House who further stigmatizes abortion, though it must be said Clinton herself seems chronically unable to speak about abortion without euphemism.

While there are many other reasons a Kaine pick would signal a less-than-secure and values-driven Clinton presidency, the fact also stands that he is a white male insider at a time when the rising electorate is decidedly not white and quite clearly looking for strong leadership and meaningful change. Kaine is not the change we seek.

The conventional wisdom these days is that platforms are merely for show and vice presidential picks don’t much matter. I call foul; that’s an absolutely cynical lens through which to view policies. What you say and with whom you affiliate yourself do indeed matter. And if Clinton chooses Kaine, we know from the outset that progressives have a fight on their hands, not only to avoid the election of an unapologetic fascist, but to ensure that the only person claiming the progressive mantle actually means what she says.

News Race

#FreedomNow Protests: Police Union ‘Protects Violent Officers’

Michelle D. Anderson

In New York City, activists called attention to the role the union plays in preventing police accountability. The activists called for the firing a police officer who fatally shot 37-year-old Delrawn Small while off duty in a road rage incident on July 4.

Several activists demanding police accountability were arrested at a local police union building in New York City during a protest that began during Wednesday’s early morning hours.

Organized by the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) NYC, the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, and The Movement for Black Lives, the protest was held at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association headquarters building in Lower Manhattan.

The action was part of the two-day #FreedomNow national call for justice for Black lives. The movement seeks to counter failed policing strategies and disparities in health, education, and housing across the United States.

Rahel Mekdim Teka, the organizing chair for BYP 100 NYC, said in a statement Wednesday that police are trying to manipulate conversations on protecting Black lives by leading the public to believe law enforcement officers are at risk.

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Police officers in Louisiana were recently given hate crime protections after the state’s Republican-held legislature passed the so-called Blue Lives Matter bill. Texas is primed to become the next state to give law enforcement officers hate crime protections, even as violence against police has plummeted in recent decades.

“They are not at risk. Police officers are the threat. Police do not keep us safe,” Teka said. “Police do not protect us. They are the danger that keeps Black people unsafe. We [must] divest from institutions that do not value us and instead invest in Black communities.”

In New York City, activists called attention to the role the union plays in preventing police accountability. The activists called for the firing of New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Wayne Isaacs, a three-year veteran of the NYPD who fatally shot 37-year-old Delrawn Small while off duty in a road rage incident on July 4.

Isaacs has been placed on “modified duty” and assigned a desk job while the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman investigates Small’s death. The NYPD announced that the officer had been stripped of his gun and shield, the New York Daily News reported.

Monica Dennis, a Black Lives Matter organizer, tweeted protesters’ demands, charging that the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association “only serves to protect violent officers.”

The Million Hoodies Movement for Justice announced that ten activists from its ranks and BYP 100 had been arrested during the protests. The group sought donations for a bail fund that had raised around 70 percent of its $10,000 goal as of 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch issued a statement about the protests and arrests on the union’s Facebook page.

He called the protest “a display of misdirected and misinformed anger that should have been pointed at City Hall, not the police officers who were on hand to protect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.”

Lynch criticized protesters for entering the lobby and not dispersing when ordered. He asked local politicians to support police officers and to denounce violence against law enforcement.

The event garnered mass participation at the headquarters, located at the same address as the New York Civil Liberties Union and several private firms.

The New York protest was among several similar actions across the country. In Washington D.C., protesters with BYP 100 DC and Black Lives Matter DC “occupied” the legislative office of the National Fraternal Order of Police, according to a notice on the BYP 100 website.

D.C. protesters wanted officers who supported their fight for justice and accountability to show solidarity by not paying their dues.

On Twitter, Mervyn Marcano, a communications strategist for the Movement for Black Lives, said the successful shutdown in D.C. had lasted more than six hours.

Clarise McCants, an organizer for BYP 100 DC, said in a statement that the FOP functioned like a college fraternity.

“Just like college frats that further rape culture by closing ranks to protect members who are sexual assailants, the FOP has proven that their primary commitment is to protect the worst of their members behind the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’—even in the most heinous of circumstances,” McCants said.