The Black World Today

Black Resistance to War Is Imperative

War, what is it good for ...absolutely nothing.

Ironically, these are the insightful words of a popular R&B group named WAR. As Bush the Younger prepares to follow in the footsteps of his father and unleash an attack against Iraq, resistance to his misadventure is mounting in the United States and the world. More and more people are concluding that this is an unjust war.

According to the polls, more than 70 percent of the people of Western Europe oppose Bush's obsession with toppling Saddam Hussein. Even in the U.S. a solid majority is in favor of giving the U.N. inspection teams more time, and oppose a war against Iraq prosecuted without the sanction of the Security Council. On Jan. 18, by some estimates, the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition mobilized upwards of 500,000 people in Washington, D.C. for the most massive anti-war demonstration since the Vietnam War.

Thousands more marched in numerous cities across the country and hundreds of thousands more turned-out for anti-war rallies and demonstrations in Europe. On Jan. 20, Black Voices for Peace, under the brilliant and courageous leadership of Damu Smith, packed more than 3,000 people into Plymouth Congregational Church in Washington, D.C. (where Rev. Graylan Hagler is pastor) for a series of educational workshops and a mass rally for peace and justice.

In the main, the growing anti-war movement does not support the authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein. Much of the public is acutely aware that Saddam is a defanged dictator who is already isolated, confined and incapable of posing a threat to nations in the region, let alone the U.S. While Iraq may possess weapons of mass destruction, it is not the only nation in the world that has them. Most experts agree that North Korea poses a much greater threat than Iraq. But North Korea is not the fourth largest oil-producing nation in the world. All of the drama and theatrics orchestrated by Bush and company notwithstanding, most of the world, including a majority of Americans, do not view Iraq as a clear and present danger to this country.

As Nelson Mandela so forcefully put it again in a recent statement, Bush's running buddies in the energy industry are anxious to get their hands on those huge Iraqi oil fields. The arms industry is also smiling all the way to the bank. Beyond the seductive attraction of profit, however, this war is also about creating a climate of "permanent crisis" -- using the war against terrorism and the pending war against Iraq as a pretext to stifle dissent, ignore the social and economic needs of people in this country and roll back many of the gains won during the civil rights movement.

While our civil liberties are being shredded and civil rights forestalled, Bush is proposing yet another tax cut for the wealthy as a perverted strategy for stimulating a moribund economy and shaky stock market. The economy is reeling, but Bush is still prepared to incur a $1 trillion deficit over the next few years (I thought one of the cardinal tenets of Republicanism was a "balanced budget").

In the meantime, cities and states are experiencing record deficits as a result of the drastic economic downturn; consumer confidence is severely shaken and unemployment is steadily inching upwards. To borrow Martin Luther King's characterization of the Vietnam War, the war against Iraq, with a price tag of $200 billion, will drain desperately needed resources away from domestic problems like a "giant demonic suction tube." But, as long as the eyes of the nation are focused on the war against terrorism and the war against Iraq, Bush and company believe that they can get away with undercutting our civil liberties, dampening dissent, decimating social programs and rolling back civil rights. However, early indications are that they may have miscalculated.

Opposition is building momentum at a pace that must be causing alarm in the White House. My concern is that there are not enough black folks in the midst and at the forefront of the resistance to the war. The irony is that institutional racism disproportionately confines black people to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder and as a consequence black people end up disproportionately caught up in a military machine that most often wages unjust wars. Our sons and daughters will bear the brunt of the battle.

Black opposition to the war against Iraq is imperative. In the same spirit that Martin Luther King opposed the Vietnam War and Kwame Ture declared "Hell no, we won't go," Africans in America must follow the lead of organizations like Black Voices for Peace and become massively involved in openly and vocally expressing our resistance to the madness of Bush's machinations. We must see the war against Iraq as snuffing out the dreams and aspirations of millions of our people, as well as those of millions of people of color and poor and working people. We must declare, that as far as black folks are concerned, "War is absolutely good for nothing!"

Ron Daniels is executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City.

Remembering Jam Master Jay

All sorts of emotions are whirling inside my head and to be honest it's hard to believe Jam Master Jay [Jason Mizell] is dead...Dude was 37 years old, had a wife and three kids. I believe his oldest son is 15. And if you ever met Jay, you knew he was a cool cat. He didn't bring a gangsta persona to the table. He wasn't the type of cat who needed a bunch of bodyguards when he walked down the street. As far as I knew he wasn't living foul, causing drama or somehow instigating any sort of 'rap feud' which are all too frequent.

Jam Master Jay was a cool cat and it's for that reason I don't wanna do what we always seem to do when we encounter violent death... I don't wanna simply 'keep it moving' and act like him being killed is no big deal. It is a big deal. I don't wanna put a good face forward and stick the emotions of yet another violent death of another brotha in the back of my mind. There's been one too many deaths and I no longer have room in the back of my mind. I don't wanna fall back on old tired clichés and say things like 'death is a part of life' or 'when it's your time to go it's your time to go'. That don't cut it for me anymore. I don't wanna act like this doesn't bother me cause it really does. I don't wanna give into this unwritten code among us as black men to not be phased by violent deaths because it's an all too common occurrence.

I don't wanna hold a candle, pour liquor on a curb or go on the radio station and play all my Run DMC records and rebroadcast all my old Run DMC interviews. I don't want Jay's death to be reduced to yet another tribute. It seems like in the past two or three years we've been doing a helluva of tributes.

In the past couple of year alone we've lost Big Pun and DJ Screw out of Houston to heart attacks. Too Poetic of the Grave Diggaz passed from cancer, but he courageously recorded his last album while he had the disease. We lost Aaliyah to a plane crash and Left Eye of TLC to a car crash. We lost San Francisco pioneering rapper Cougnut and San Jose's D-Mac who died together in a car crash just days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Days after the attack we lost Boogie Knights of the group The Boogie Boys. Many of us are still grieving from last month's sudden death of Money Ray of the Cold Crush Brothers. He was diagnosed with cancer in August and died five weeks later.

And yo, I gotta be honest; I'm still recovering from the emotional upheaval of the sniper killings, which just ended last week. I'm still asking questions with regards to Kenneth Bridges, co-founder of Matah. Why did this community activist and community leader have to be killed? Why was it another brother to be the one to take him out?

I'm still trying to get over the haunting images of the distraught mother of the 35-year-old bus driver who was the last sniper victim. I'm still trying to process those heartbreaking images... I'm still asking why? I'm still asking why there are 94 murders in Oakland. And I'm really bothered by the fact that damn near everyone I know knows someone who has been killed in the past few years. And I'm still asking why we seem to take death so lightly? Why do we see life as so expendable?

I keep asking myself what happened to the promises and commitments we all made when we came together in '95 during the Million Man March? We promised to uplift and affirm life. What has happened since then? Why is loss of life no longer a big deal anymore? Why is black life so cheap? What are we doing to ourselves and why? What's going on? Will we ever get it together? Will we as black people ever get it together? I keep thinking about a song that poet D-Knowledge did a couple of years ago where he asks 'Does Anyone Still Die of Old Age'?

I don't know if we've been able to fully grieve and process all this death. Many of us are still left with unanswered questions. Why did this have to happen? It seems like as soon as we start the process we're hit with another sudden death, which means we wind up shoving a lot of feelings and emotions in the back of our minds, doing another tribute and moving on. This time around I don't just wanna do another tribute. There's just too many tributes to the point that it's becoming routine and that's bothersome for me. Jay's death and for that matter anyone's death should not be routine.

Maybe I'm feeling this way because I'm realizing that in many respects, I still never really got over the deaths of Pac and Biggie. There's really been no closure despite all the VH1 documentaries, articles, movie etc. This morning I was talking to my boy Pharrel over at Roc-A-Fella records and he pointed out something that really hit home. He told me. "I hope they catch the guy who did this. I hope they catch him because there have been way too many unsolved murders in hip hop."

I kept thinking about that and all these names that ran through my mind. Scott La Rock, Freaky Tah of Lost Boyz, East Palo Alto's Karisma, JoJo from Bored Stiff, Ray Luv's Dee jay DJ CAE, The Mac out of Vallejo, DJ Quick's partner Mau, Pac's homier, Yare "Kauai" Foal, Oakland's Seagram, 2 Pac and Biggie.. The list goes on...There's a whole lot of unsolved murders in rap and I don't care what anyone says, that lack of closure has an effect.

And while one can easily make the case that there's a lot of unsolved murders in our community in general, one would hope that we would be able to get to the bottom of some of these high profile slayings. The fact that we never seem to solve the murders of some of these artists the same way we don't seem to be able to solve the murders of 'Pookie' or 'Ray Ray' from up the block, underscores the notion that in many circles the loss of black life is no big deal.

It don't matter whether you're a high profile artist or a d-boy on the local corner in the hood. It's like we're expected to die a quick and early death. And even sadder is the perceived circumstances of our deaths are all the same. In other words, since last night I've been fielding a lot of calls from local reporters who seem bent on making this connection to JMJ's death with the deaths of 2Pac, East-West coast feuds and on going beefs in rap like Ja Rule vs. DMX and Nas vs. Jay-Z. This is not the Jam Master Jay I know.

It's like cats are trying to make the case that perhaps Jay lead a crazy lifestyle that somehow invited the violence that befell him. I don't wanna put JMJ in that category. Almost all the newscasts and stories I've heard end with reporters trying to make that connection. "Jay Master Jay like 2Pac and the Notorious BIG' is in a long line of rap stars who have died violently in a violent rap world." Heck CNN has a poll on their website as we speak asking who has the most musical influence 2Pac, Biggie or JMJ. As innocent as it may seem to some, there's something about that poll and the overall approach and questions raised that don't sit well with me.

I don't wanna say Jam Master Jay and 2Pac in the same breath. I don't wanna compare him to Biggie. I don't wanna say JMJ is in a long line of rap stars who died violently...Jay deserves his own space in our minds and hearts. We all need to take time out and reflect on Jay the musician, the pioneer, the man, the father, the husband, the friend, the associate and not categorize and compartmentalize him. I don't wanna see him reduced to another violent casualty in a 'violent rap world' as one TV reporter described it.

Before asking questions about hip hop and violence let's begin by asking 'Did you know Jam Master Jay?' 'How are you coping with this sudden loss of life?' Are you sad? Are you angry? How will you deal with it and what changes will you try to bring about? 'What type of man did you know JMJ to be?' What did he mean to the community? What did he mean to his family?' Words cannot express the hurt, sadness and anger I feel for this loss.

Please take time to hug those you love. It should be obvious by now, no one is promised tomorrow. Please take time to say a prayer for Jay's three kids and the wife he left behind. Pray for the rest of his family and friends. One can only imagine what they must be going through. Pray that God gives them strength to get through the pain of his death. Pray that they be comforted. Lastly take time to reflect and allow yourself to grieve. Allow yourself to heal. We've been hit with a lot of stuff over the past few years.

The Freedom To Vote

Dorothy Gaines is a mother, a grandmother, a former nurse technician, and a resident of Alabama. The State of Alabama will not allow her to vote. She has been locked out of the voting booth because she was once locked in prison on felony conspiracy and crack cocaine distribution convictions.

Ms. Gaines had no prior record and there was no physical evidence of any drugs found in her possession. Her felony convictions were based solely on the testimony of admitted drug dealers who received reduced sentences in exchange for naming co-conspirators. Former President Clinton granted clemency to Dorothy so she would be free from prison; but she is still not free to vote. Sadly, Dorothy Gaines is not alone.

As the result of a nation-wide labyrinth of legal technicalities and secret adjudications in closed-door decision-making processes, 1.4 million people are denied the right to vote after they have done the time for a felony conviction. They may be hardworking, tax-paying, rehabilitated offenders, but the door to democracy remains permanently locked to them unless they are able to decipher and navigate the maze of procedural requirements that stands in the way of their chances to remove the stigma of political impotence in a society that honors the power of the vote.

Joseph Hayden, a recently released New York state prisoner, put it this way: "Of all of the groups that were excluded from the franchise -- women, slaves, the illiterate, non-property holders, and convicted felons -- only one group remains disenfranchised." The disenfranchisement of citizens with convictions represents the last vestige of this historic and systematic exclusion of identifiable groups from voting. Despite lynchings, intimidation, and the threat of economic reprisals, the unfair obstacles to participation in the political process for all have largely been overcome. One barrier, however, remains: the right of persons who have paid their debt to society to participate fully in the political process by voting.

In comparing and contrasting the chaotic maze of nuances, anomalies and other peculiarities that comprise the matrix of laws in the states which fail to provide automatic restoration upon release of sentence, the search for coherent meaning underlying the various provisions is a futile one. The only constant factor appears to be the degree of difficulty built into the structure, which stymies one's incentive to even commence the restoration process.

If you live in Alabama, you may be forced to have blood drawn for the required DNA sample for the authorities. In Delaware, a psychiatric examination is required. In Florida, a former felon must demonstrate that she had no history of drug abuse even if she was an addict convicted of a drug offense. In Maryland, authorities claim they cannot restore voting rights to people with felony convictions unless they receive information regarding the person's marital history, interests, leisure time activities and the frequency of her attendance in religious activities.

Americans who have completed their criminal sentences are required to follow notice procedures to apply for the restoration of their voting rights. Notice of application for restoration must be provided to state attorneys, law enforcement officials and /or victims in the states of AL, AZ, DE, FL, KY, TN, WA, and WY. The applicant must publish her pardon petition for 30 days in the relevant MS newspaper.

In WA, the date of conviction makes a huge difference. If one is convicted on one day, a horrendous, red tape ordeal follows. If convicted of the same crime one day later, however, the person is qualified to vote automatically when his sentence has been served. In TN, the system is so convoluted and tangled that it defies explanation.

Florida requires the former felon to divulge the date of birth of his child's mother, the cause of death of his father, and the names and purposes of all organizations of which he is a member. Virginia demands three letters of reference from "reputable" people in the community and demonstration of civic responsibility. Florida refuses to grant waivers from the requirement that all fines, traffic tickets, debt and child support owed are satisfied, even when the applicant has been unable to obtain steady employment since his release from prison.

Even before embarking on this restoration process, people who have served their sentences must wait the requisite 20 years in Maryland and 7 years in Virginia before beginning the journey for re-enfranchisement, if convicted of a non-violent drug trafficking offense. Ironically, if the former felon had committed murder, rape or another violent crime, she would "only" have to wait 5 years in VA before starting the restoration process. There is no plausible rationale for the difference between the obligatory 3-year wait in Al and DE versus the 10-year wait in MD for crimes other than drugs or violence.

Advancement Project, a Washington-based public policy and legal action group, has released a report entitled "Re-enfranchisement!" which provides a comprehensive, state-by-state roadmap to the restoration processes and procedures of the 13 states currently subjected to a discretionary, non-automatic restoration process.

While the only real remedy to this senseless crazy-quilt of laws is automatic restoration across the board, there must also be an effort to hold states accountable to the provisions in the statutes that exist, by encouraging eligible persons to seek re-enfranchisement. And if former felons use the existing individual restoration procedures in an organized way that also monitors these processes that are characterized by secret adjudications, political influences, backlogs and constant delays, additional evidence to support reform is likely to result.

Nkechi Taifa is a senior policy analyst at the Open Society Institute. Edward Hailes Jr. is a senior attorney at the Advancement Project. Edward Hailes can be reached at eahailes@advancementproject.org.

To read the full report go to www.advancementproject.org.

New Moral and Legal Basis for Reparations

In September of this year in Durban, South Africa, the United Nations will hold what could be one of the most momentous events of the 21st century, the World Conference on Racism. Thousands of people from around the world are expected to attend a conference, which will address one of the most malignant maladies to plague the darker peoples of the world historically -- racism and white supremacy.

People of African descent and other people of color from the developing world are anxious to discuss the past and present effects of the castigation and oppression of groups of people on the basis of skin color. As might be expected, the United States and many of the nations of Europe are casting a leery eye towards the conference for fear that the issue of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the demand for "restitution" will become a dominant theme of the proceedings. Indeed, the United States is taking extraordinary steps to prevent the slave trade and the question of reparations from appearing on the agenda at all.

This is proving to be a difficult task. Spearheaded by veteran human rights activists and organizers from the December 12th Movement and the National Black United Front, a formidable coalition of organizations is mounting a determined effort not only to ensure that the slave trade and restitution are on the agenda, but in a bold and visionary move, these organizations are pressing for the introduction and passage of a resolution at the World Conference on Racism that would declare the Trans-Atlantic slave trade a "crime against humanity."

The prospects that such a resolution will pass is causing grave trepidations in the United States and among the circle of nations which are culpable in the most horrendous holocaust in human history. Without question, the passage of this resolution will provide an unassailable moral foundation for the call for reparations. Equally important, this resolution will also provide legal undergirding for the demand for reparations in international law since there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity. Hence, the argument that the slave trade was a long time ago and therefore should not be subject to litigation or other forms of redress will be severely undermined.

There should be no question about the veracity of the claim that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity. By some estimates more than 100 million Africans lost their lives during the holocaust of enslavement. Beyond the unthinkable loss of life however, in "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa," Walter Rodney documents the devastating effects of the slave trade on African people in terms of the disruption and destruction of families, communities and nations, the distortion of social, economic and political relations and the loss of "development opportunity."

The economies of Europe and America developed off the free labor of enslaved Africans while the continent of Africa was pillaged, ravished and underdeveloped. Rodney recounts that whole industries and cities were born and flourished as a consequence of the involvement of Britain and France in the enslaving and trafficking of Africans. Concurring with Rodney, Eric Williams in "Capitalism and Slavery" documents how the fruits of the lucrative Triangular Trade made huge fortunes for Europeans in the Caribbean and North America, particularly New England. An entire continent was demonized, demoralized, devastated and hurled backward in history by the holocaust of enslavement.

Once in this hemisphere, enslaved Africans destined for North America were subjected to a slave breaking process which not only involved raw naked terror and intimidation but cultural aggression, the calculated attempt to dehumanize and de-Africanize the African. Malcolm X once said that of all the crimes committed by Europeans against Africans, the greatest crime was to take away our names. By that assertion Malcolm meant the effort to destroy our culture.

Our ancestors were forbidden to speak in their native tongue, to practice indigenous religions or to play African musical instruments. In addition, our ancestors were taught that their African heritage tainted them and that their color was a "badge of degradation." Any White person, no matter what their status or station in life was to be respected and obeyed at all times. And, as chattels, property, our ancestors could be sold and traded at will with no obligation to keep families together. There should be no question but that the slave trade was a crime against humanity. Slave labor made America prosperous while destroying and stagnating the lives of the captive sons and daughters of Africa in this country; a crime compounded by the fact that we were eventually "emancipated" without compensation, no forty acres and mule, no property or capital in a growing capitalist economy, whose explosive growth was directly attributable to the free labor of our ancestors.

Europe and America know that they owe African people a debt too enormous to be calculated. But like cowards, they continue to refuse to take responsibility for their dastardly deeds. And, they will continue to refuse to acknowledge their crimes until the victims of the holocaust of enslavement unite and fight to compel the perpetrators to confess, apologize and make suitable compensation.

It is for this reason that African people, other historically oppressed people and our allies must transform the World Conference on Racism into a forum for discussing the greatest crime against humanity in history. In so doing, we will build momentum for the just and righteous demand for reparations for Africans in America and the world.

The Lucrative Business of Black Leadership

The headline in a leading Los Angeles black newspaper gloated "Community Leaders Support New Historic Driving While Black Bill." There were two things wrong with this. The bill by Black Democratic State Senator Kevin Murray that purported to attack the problem of racial profiling of minorities by law enforcement agencies in California was neither new nor historic. It was a terribly compromised bill that ripped the provision out of an earlier Murray bill mandating that police compile racial stats on unwarranted traffic stops.

Most experts agree that this is the only way to tell if police profile black and Latino motorists.

But the bigger thing wrong with the headline was that it presumed that the handful of black organizations pictured beneath the headline with names such as Zulu Men, Mothers in Action, African-American Unity Center, Black Agenda, and Black Ministers Conference could speak for all blacks. There was no indication who these groups represent and what their program is.

The arrogance of a handful of amorphous groups claiming to be the exclusive voice for blacks is the big reason many blacks ask, "Where are the black leaders?" "What are they doing for the community" They are talking about black leaders such as these as well as the NAACP, SCLC, Urban League, CORE, the Brotherhood Crusade, Jesse Jackson's Operation Push, black Democratic politicians, black ministers and celebrity activists.

Many of these leaders are mostly middle-class business and professional persons. Their agenda and top down style of leadership is remote, distant, and often wildly out of step with the needs of poor and working class blacks. They often approach tough public policy issues such as the astronomical black imprisonment rates, the dreary plight of poor black women, black homelessness, black-on-black crime and violence, the drug crisis, gang warfare, and school vouchers, with a strange blend of caution, uncertainty, and wariness. They keep counsel only with those black ministers, politicians, and professional and business leaders they consider respectable and legitimate and will blindly march in lockstep with their program.

Worst of all, they horribly disfigure black leadership by turning it into a corporate style competitive business in which success is measured by piling up political favors and corporate dollars. The sad thing is that it wasn't always this way. For decades mainstream black organizations such as the NAACP relied on the nickels and dimes of poor and working class blacks for their support. This gave them complete independence and a solid constituency to mount powerful campaigns for jobs, better housing, quality schools, and against police violence and lynching.

The profound shift in the method and style of black leadership began in the 1970s. With the murders of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, the collapse of the traditional civil rights organizations, the destruction and co-optation of militant activist groups, mainstream black leaders, politicians and ministers did a sharp volte face. They quickly defined the black agenda as: starting more and better businesses, grabbing more spots in corporations universities, and the professions, electing more Democrats, buying bigger and more expensive homes, taking more luxury vacations, and gaining admission into more country clubs.

They launched a frenzied campaign to establish themselves as the leaders of record for African-Americans. Their reward was more business and construction contracts, foundation grants, corporate contributions to their fundraising campaigns, dinners, banquets, scholarship funds and training programs. To keep the corporate dollars and political favors flowing smoothly, mainstream black leaders had to do several things.

- Monopolize leadership. They hold endless meetings, planning sessions, conferences, and confabs in which they back pat and self-stroke themselves with awards, plaques, tributes and testimonials. This enables them to better cut front and backroom deals, broker legislation and hatch schemes with politicians and business leaders on behalf of black communities but for their own personal gain.

- Pick low risk, high profile glitter issues. The NAACP's fight over the Confederate flag, the TV industry's white out of minorities, and the use of the word "nigger" are textbook examples of how mainstream black groups choose soft targets to get media attention, celebrity endorsements, and political prestige. These issues do not offend governors, mayors, city councilpersons, alderpersons, state and federal officials, corporate leaders and bank lenders.

- Media hogging. They frantically maneuver to command center stage at press conferences, get their pictures and quotes in news stories and features, and put their media spin on racial issues. This further solidifies their position as the annointed black leaders.

- Crush all opposition. They ruthlessly try to isolate, intimidate, and ostracize independent community activists who refuse to take their marching orders from them and are not in the hip pocket of politicians and corporate officials.

Those black leaders who turn leadership into a lucrative business transaction smother new, innovative local leadership, deaden social and political activism in black communities, and deepen cynicism of poor and working class blacks toward black organizations. This is a good business for them but a bad business for blacks.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of the forthcoming The Disappearance of Black Leadership (Middle Passage Press, Los Angeles, April 2000; Call 323-298-0266 for more information.)

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