March 01, 2018
By Mark Ridley-Thomas
Supervisor, Los Angeles County
I am, and will remain, concerned that legalizing the sale of marijuana could be detrimental to the health and safety of vulnerable neighborhoods, leading to unintended consequences that cannot be offset by overblown estimates of the profit that commercialization might bring. Still, I recognize that Prop. 64 offers an opportunity to address at least some of the profound injustices perpetrated by the War on Drugs, especially against people of color.
Even though marijuana use is fairly consistent across race, blacks have been four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession. And their punishment persisted long past the time they spent behind bars, because having a conviction on one’s record made it difficult, if not impossible, to find a job, obtain housing, secure student loans, earn a professional license, etc.
All of those missed opportunities had lasting repercussions, sometimes felt across generations. It also further widened the racial divide, socially and economically.
Prop. 64 is not without flaws but nevertheless carries tremendous potential for righting the wrongs of the past, basically by giving people a chance to start over. It retroactively reduced certain convictions – felonies became misdemeanors, misdemeanors became infractions – and dismissed some convictions altogether. For youth, it also allowed court records to be destroyed, giving them a clean slate.
Many people, however, remain unaware that they are entitled to legal relief under Prop. 64. Others are deterred by the cumbersome process, which can include having to hire a lawyer to petition the court.
We have an obligation to help them.
Together with Supervisor Hilda Solis, I have authored a motion to create a plan for facilitating the resentencing of minor marijuana convictions in Los Angeles County. The Office of Cannabis Management would collaborate with various county departments and agencies, as well as the courts and community stakeholders, to develop strategies that are timely, accessible, and cost-effective.
The motion also seeks to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, particularly racial disparities in law enforcement. A disturbing pattern has emerged in jurisdictions that legalized marijuana. In Alaska, for example, overall marijuana-related arrests fell post-legalization but blacks were still arrested 10 times more often than whites. In Washington D.C. and Colorado, the ratio was closer to 4:1 and 3:1.
Throughout my career, I have made criminal justice reform a priority. I have worked to improve relations between law enforcement and the public they are sworn to protect and serve; to facilitate resentencing under Prop. 47; to create diversion programs for the mentally ill, who should not be in jail in the first place; and to support reentry programs aimed at helping ex-offenders become productive members of society after serving their time.
Too many lives have already been upended, and communities adversely affected, by actions that, as of New Year’s Day 2018, are no longer considered crimes in California. If we, as a society, value justice and improving lives, then we must make the most of correcting wrong-headed criminal justice practices of the past and promote a future that is defined by enlightened accountability.
February 08, 2018
By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
“It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.”
— President Bill Clinton
Since the presidential election last year, the Urban League Movement has been vocal in opposing those of the new administration's policies which erode civil rights and opportunities for underserved communities. But we have remained optimistic that we could find common ground in the area of infrastructure development.
In his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Trump sounded a hopeful but vague note on rebuilding the nation's crumbling infrastructure:
Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment we need. Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment -- to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit ... Together, we can reclaim our building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit.
Analysis of the Administration's plan has found it "light on federal funds and details." Of the $1.5 trillion, only $200 billion would come from federal funds - which would be offset by unspecified budget cuts.
The National Urban League has a better - and far more detailed plan.
The Main Street Marshall Plan, From Poverty to Shared Prosperity is a forward-leaning investment of $4 trillion over 10 years - $2 trillion for physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and buildings, and $2 trillion for human development, such as education, job training and health insurance. The Main Street Marshall Plan is aimed not only at combating poverty but at promoting equality and eliminating disparities.
The plan calls for a comprehensive infrastructure initiative that rebuilds the nation's roads, bridges, rails, water systems, parks, community facilities, affordable housing and broadband. While our plan, like the administration's, would leverage private dollars create millions of jobs, it calls for a maximum public investment and a guarantee of business opportunities for American-based businesses both large and small. Such an infrastructure initiative should meet three conditions:
Maximized opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses
A workforce development and job training program to bring millions of youth and young adults into the construction industry for the first time
Investments in schools, libraries, community centers, recreation facilities, parks, housing and broadband internet access
A decade after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans who were hardest hit have benefited least from the fragile economic recovery that followed. Despite laudable reductions in the Black unemployment rate, it stubbornly remains double the rate for whites. Black Americans continue to lag behind in wealth, income and homeownership, and across all educational levels.
Just as the original Marshall Plan virtually wiped out widespread poverty across Europe following World War II, the Main Street Marshall Plan has the potential to transform urban America. We also took inspiration from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who confronted the twin crises of massive unemployment and lagging infrastructure development with the New Deal Agencies.
The New Deal brought electricity to rural America. The Main Street Marshall Plan can bring high-speed broadband to urban America. The New Deal virtually eliminated widespread illiteracy. The Main Street Marshal Plan can eliminate the racial achievement gap.
We urgently ask Congress to work quickly to build on the foundation of the Administration's emerging infrastructure plan, and join us in the effort to transform America again.
The National Urban League is a civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities. Founded in 1910 and headquartered in New York City, the National Urban League spearheads the efforts of its local affiliates through the development of programs, public policy research and advocacy. Today, the National Urban League has 93 affiliates serving 300 communities, in 35 states and the District of Columbia, providing direct services that impact and improve the lives of more than 2 million people nationwide. To learn more about the National Urban League, visit www.nul.org and follow us on Twitter @NatUrbanLeague.
December 21, 2017
By Melanie L. Campbell
“It’s a good night to be an African American woman,” said CNN Political Commentator Symone Sanders on Tuesday night. This was her response to the historic Doug Jones victory over Roy Moore in the special Alabama Senatorial election. But Democrats and Republicans alike should take heed.
Political pundits can parse words, slice and dice the numbers and call Roy Moore a “terrible choice” as the Republican candidate; but make no mistake about it, the African American vote was the critical difference between a win and a loss in that election. In his initial remarks to his followers, and the media, Senator-elect Jones unabashedly thanked African Americans in particular for their support. And why not? Exit polls indicated that 98 percent of African American women voted for him. In contrast, only 32 percent of white women in Alabama voted in his favor.
The same political pundits tried to report that the women's vote is what brought Democrats historic victories in the 2017 Election on November 7th in Virginia and New Jersey. The reality is not all women voted for the winning candidates in those elections. According to the 2017 Election Exit Polls, like they did recently in Alabama, Black women led the way in turning Virginia and New Jersey from red to blue, up and down the ballot. Conversely, the majority of white women voted for the Republican gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia.
The November 7th Exit Polls reported that Black women voted 91 percent for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam, who was elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. White women voted 51 percent for the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie. In New Jersey, Black women voted 94 percent for Democratic candidate, Phil Murphy, who is governor-elect for New Jersey. Latino women voted 88 percent for Murphy and white women voted 44 percent for Murphy.
To be clear, Black women have been the most loyal voters for progressive candidates for decades. In 2016, Black women voted 94 percent for Hillary Clinton; and white women voted 53 percent for Donald Trump. In 2013, Black women were the decisive vote for current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, voting at 91 percent. White women voted for anti-choice Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli at 54 percent.
In both 2008 and 2012, Black women led the way in electing President Barack Obama the first African American president of the United States. The Black women’s vote, in fact, accounts for the gender gap in support of the Democratic Party as the majority of white women supported Republican candidates in both elections.
So the question is—will Black women continue to be the most loyal voting bloc for democrats in the 2018 Mid-Term Election? I caution the Democratic Party to pay close attention to the recent Black Women’s Roundtable/ ESSENCE “Power of the Sister Vote” Poll (2017 BWR/ESSENCE Poll), released in September 2017 that gauged Black women’s political attitudes.
The 2017 BWR/ESSENCE Poll revealed an 11 percent drop in the “belief that the Democratic Party best represents the interest of Black women, dropping from 85 percent to 74 percent over the past year. In fact, more Black women think that none of the political parties represents them well, up to 21percent from 13 percent in 2016.”
The poll also showed Black women millennials identifying as independents continues to rise. The poll further disclosed Black women have a significant interest in running for political office on a local level.
The 2017 Election results appears to confirm that growing interest, with several Black women making history in key local and statewide races including Sheila Oliver being elected the first African American elected lieutenant governor of New Jersey; Vi Lyles elected first African American woman elected mayor of Charlotte, N.C.; Keisha Lance Bottoms winning the mayor's race in Atlanta; Andrea Jenkins, first African American transgender elected to the Minneapolis City Council; Mary Parham Copelan, first African American mayor of Forestville, Ga., and many more across the country.
These changing political attitudes and trends provide an opportunity for the Democrats if they fully embrace and respect Black women’s leadership as their most loyal base on a national, state and local level. It is also an opportunity for the Republican Party, if they choose to reverse course from being the party of the “Alt-right,” white nationalists and white supremacists.
Otherwise, Black women, especially millennials, will likely expand their options as independents or members of third parties in the future.
So, for those progressives who want to win in the 2018 Mid-Term Election cycle, remember Black women are the “secret sauce” to victory — Follow Black Women.
Melanie L. Campbell is the President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable.
December 21, 2017
Dr. Maulana Karenga
This year unfolds and brings to the fore the 51st anniversary of the pan-African holiday Kwanzaa, a celebration of family, community and culture. And all over the world throughout the global African community, African people will come together for seven days, December 26-January 1 to celebrate themselves and the good that they represent, create and enjoy in the world. And they will raise up and recommit themselves to practice the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles, which are the moral and cultural ground in which the holiday is rooted and on which it firmly and steadfastly stands. This year’s theme is “Practicing the Principles of Kwanzaa: Repairing, Renewing and Remaking Our World” which again speaks to Kwanzaa’s global reach and relevance to millions of Africans who celebrate it throughout the world African community on every continent in the world.
Kwanzaa, like the first harvest celebrations which are its mold and model, is organized around five fundamental overarching activities. Kwanzaa is first a time for ingathering of our people, a joyful coming together in various ways to reinforce the bonds between us as persons and a people and to build and rebuild relations of good, beauty and expansive meaning. Secondly, Kwanzaa is a time of special reverence for Creator and creation in deep appreciation of the beauty and bountifulness of the earth and self-conscious commitment to preserve and protect the earth which makes the harvest of good and the sustaining of life possible.
Thirdly, Kwanzaa is a time for commemoration of the past, time to pause and respectfully remember the lives, teach the lessons and raise up and recommit ourselves to honor our ancestors and the awesome legacy they left us. Kwanzaa is also a time to recommit ourselves to our highest values, the Nguzo Saba, the cardinal virtues of Maat, i.e., truth, justice, propriety, harmony, balance, reciprocity and righteous order. and all those other moral principles that ground and enrich our lives, strengthen us in our struggle and expand our consciousness and capacity to bring good in the world. Kwanzaa also is a time for celebration of the Good; the good of family, community and culture; the good of life, love, and listening gently and joyously to each other and responding accordingly; the good of sisterhood, brotherhood, friendship, marriage and all relations of good, meaning and beauty; and, of course, the expansive and enduring good of the world and all in it.
As always, it is important to remember and reaffirm that the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns and the ground and source of its ultimate meaning and measure are the Nguzo Saba, The Seven Principles. Created out of the Kawaida, African-centered philosophy of life and struggle, the Nguzo Saba were posed as a Black value system, the central set of values we needed to rescue and reconstruct our history and humanity, build and strengthen our community, and wage the successful struggle for liberation in which we were engaged. In a word, it was a communal value system that would aid us in our struggle to be ourselves and free ourselves as African people and make our own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history.
To highlight these principles, Kwanzaa was created as a seven-day holiday with each day serving as a time to focus on each of the principles. Moreover, during Kwanzaa we engage in a ceremony called “Lifting Up the Light That Lasts” which is a candle lighting ceremony. This ceremony rises out of the ancient African teaching found in The Husia that we as a people are “given that which endures in the midst of that which is overthrown” and this enduring gift and legacy are our spiritual and ethical values.
Thus, at Kwanzaa, we lift up these lasting values which light the path to building, celebrating and sustaining family, community and culture and bringing good in the world. One of the major symbols of Kwanzaa is the Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles, and each one represents one of the principles. In lighting each candle, we thus lift up the principle that represents a light that lasts. Moreover, in lifting up the light of these enduring principles, we are to think deeply about them, discuss them and recommit ourselves to them, making them an essential and vital part of our daily lives. Thus, each principle calls for and commits us to practices which strengthens us in life and struggle and aids us in honoring the ancient African ethical imperative to constantly bring, increase and sustain good in the world.
The principle of Umoja (Unity) is a call and commitment “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race”. Kujichagulia (Self-determination) is a call and commitment “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves”. Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) is a call and commitment “to build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together”. Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) is a call and commitment “to build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together”.
Nia (Purpose) is a call and commitment “to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness”. Kuumba (Creativity) is a call and commitment “to do always as much as we can in the way we can in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it”. And Imani (Faith) is a call and commitment “to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle”.
It is a teaching of our ancestors in the Odu Ifa that we are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental mission and meaning of human life. And during Kwanzaa we remember and reflect on this in special ways and recommitment ourselves to strive to bring good in the world, to build the good world we all want and deserve to live in, and pass this creation and harvest of good on to those who come after us. Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa). And in the tradition of the ancestors, we wish for all this Kwanzaa good: all that heaven grants, the earth produces and the waters bring forth from their depths.
Dr. Maulana Karenga, Professor and Chair of Africana Studies, California State University-Long Beach; Executive Director, African American Cultural Center (Us); Creator of Kwanzaa; and author of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture and Essays on Struggle: Position and Analysis, www.AfricanAmericanCulturalCenter-LA.org; www.OfficialKwanzaaWebsite.org; www.MaulanaKarenga. org.