Crisis Politics

Politics and policy in the economic crisis.

What to the Slave is the 4th of July? - Speech by Frederick Douglass

posted Jul 4, 2012, 6:50 PM by

Holidays with complex histories ought to be moments for reflection too...
A speech given by the abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass on the 4th of July, 1852 in Rochester, New York, 76 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed but 13 years before slavery was outlawed in the U.S.

Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that the dumb might eloquently speak and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn that it is dangerous to copy the example of nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people.

"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! We wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorry this day, "may my right hand cleave to the roof of my mouth"! To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing there identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine. I do not hesitate to declare with all my soul that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! "I will not equivocate, I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, shall not confess to be right and just....

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not as astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, and secretaries, having among us lawyers doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators, and teachers; and that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives, and children, and above all, confessing and worshiping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!...

Rodney King dead

posted Jun 17, 2012, 10:50 AM by

Rodney King was found dead in his swimming pool at the age of 47 today. He gained national attention in 1991 after being brutally beaten by a group of LAPD officers who were later acquitted. That acquittal sparked a riot in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago. Rodney King made famous the question "Can we all just get along?" Twenty years later we're still trying.


Cop charged for killing Ramarley Graham

posted Jun 13, 2012, 8:34 PM by   [ updated Jun 13, 2012, 8:36 PM ]

The cop who shot and killed Ramarley Graham in the teen's grandmother's bathroom as he tried to flush a small amount of marijuana he was being chased over was indicted for manslaughter in the first and second degree this week. Though cops are rarely convicted in shootings, the DA is pressing forward, saying that the cop's "actions were neither reasonable or justified at that moment." The cop, Richard Haste, claims he thought Ramarley had a gun (the standard cop claim in a shooting), and his defense attorney points out it was the first time he shot his gun in four years. Whether or not Haste is convicted, the NYPD's aggressive drug war in poor neighborhoods in the Bronx and throughout the five boroughs is responsible for Ramarley's death as well. The NYPD has stopped and frisked young black males more times than there are young black males in the city, making these neighborhoods at the center of the drug war seem like literal war zones.

Muslim Spying Lawsuit

posted Jun 9, 2012, 1:18 PM by

The Muslim Advocates, a national group based in San-Francisco, has sued the New York Police Department on behalf of Muslims in New Jersey the department spied on. The spy program involved federal money, too. Though local officials condemned it, they can't promise to stop it. Governor Christie initially condemned it, but his Attorney General found no wrongdoing. This lawsuit was filed in federal court. 

Free Clarence Aaron

posted May 19, 2012, 11:12 AM by   [ updated May 19, 2012, 11:13 AM ]

Clarence Aaron was a 23-year-old college senior in Louisiana when he was arrested and charged with aiding in the trafficking of drugs. Although Aaron was not accused of buying or selling the drugs, his non-violent offense landed him three consecutive life sentences because the drug dealers he was aiding cooperated with prosecutors, so Clarence got a tougher sentence than either of them.

In 2008, at the end of his presidency, George W. Bush considered granting Clarence Aaron clemency, freeing him from prison. He wanted to, even. Unfortunately, incompetent lawyers at the Department of Justice provided the White House with limited information, upon which the decision was made not to commute. Had the President then had all the facts, Clarence Aaron might have been a free man.

Since the incompetence in 2008 was uncovered, calls have renewed for President Obama to pardon Clarence Aaron. You can sign the White House petition here. Both the District Judge and the Prosecutor support pardoning Clarence Aaron, something the Department of Justice lawyers failed to tell the White House in 2008.

Sarkozy Loses in France

posted May 6, 2012, 1:29 PM by

It’s au revoir for Nicolas Sarkozy, who lost his bid for re-election to Socialist Francoise Hollande earlier today, becoming the first French President since Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in 1981 to do so. D’Estaing lost then to Francois Mitterand, who became the French Republic’s first Socialist President. Francois Hollande’s victory will make him the second when he’s inaugurated a few weeks from now.

In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy, then a former Interior Minister, ran on a platform of economic reform. In office, he was able to raise the minimum age for retirement, liberalize the university system and push back against the powerful public sector unions.

Nevertheless, under President Sarkozy government spending in France has risen to 57% of GDP, the second highest in Europe. Francois Hollande, meanwhile, promises to ramp up spending with even more tax hikes as France sinks into a deeper recession, and his main campaign promise, to renegotiate the recent EU debt agreement, has already been summarily dismissed by German President Angela Merkel, setting the stage for much icier Franco-German relations in the future.

A story from the L.A. riots

posted Apr 28, 2012, 10:17 PM by   [ updated Apr 28, 2012, 10:28 PM ]

The LA riots started 20 years ago, on April 29th, 1992. Six days of rioting, largely in Southcentral Los Angeles, followed the acquittal of four white police officers for the beating of Rodney King caught on videotape. 54 people died in the rioting, thousands were injured and more than $1 billion in property damage was caused.

Perhaps the most famous incident in the LA riots was the beating, caught live by a news helicopter, of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who took a short cut down Florence Ave to deliver sand to a local depot, that led him to be permanently disabled. He didn't have a radio in his truck, and so didn't know he was driving into a riot. He was pulled out of his truck by local rioters at a red light on Florence and Normandie Aves and beaten nearly to death, live on the evening news. Bobby Green (pictured below), also a truck driver, was one of four people who lived in the neighborhood and was watching the news that ran out to help and disperse the crowd, which was throwing rocks and bottles at the unconscious Reginald Denny at that point, and Bobby Green drove him and his truck to the hospital. 

The LAPD were able to identify and arrest four assailants, Antoine Miller, 19, who opened the truck door allowing for Denny to be pulled out, "Football" Damian Williams, 19, a former high school football star who was seen on the tape hitting Denny with a brick and also assaulted other Latinos and Asians in the neighborhood during the rioting,  Henry Watson, a 27-year-old former Marine, and Gary Williams, a local crackhead who took Denny's wallet. Gary Williams plead guilty to robbery and assault and received a three year jail sentence. Miller plead guilty and received probation. Williams and Watson's trial ended with a hung jury on most counts, except for a felony count of mayhem for Williams and a misdemeanor assault charge for both Williams and Watson. Watson was given credit for time served and was released. As the families celebrated the lesser sentences, Denny hugged Damian Williams' mother in court. Williams ended up being sentenced to 10 years in prison and released for good behavior after 4. In 2003 he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a drug dealer in 2000. Watson, the ex-Marine, later appeared with Reginald Denny on the Phil Donohue Show where he apologized and the two shook hands.

Reginald Denny tried to sue the city of Los Angeles since local police had abandoned the neighborhood but lost and moved to Arizona. Bobby Green, the trucker who saved Denny, was hired by Denny's employer and moved to a suburb of Los Angeles. He worked for the trucking company for at least 15 years.

Cory Booker: Not a Hero

posted Apr 14, 2012, 4:54 PM by   [ updated Apr 14, 2012, 8:46 PM by Natural Newark ]

Heroic, though, sometimes.
Mayor Cory Booker made national news after rescuing his next door neighbor from a fire that had erupted in her house earlier this week, and showed up at Opening Day for Newark Little League. He tweeted that "heroism isn't best exhibited in 1 big action," the closest he'll probably coming to saying he's not a hero. But of course he's not, despite the heroic act. Whatever your opinion of the work Cory Booker's done, he's still a long way off from being a "hero."

More importantly, we should never turn our political leaders into heroes, because heroes, as such, don't have to be held accountable. They're heroes! Our mayor's already crossed the threshold into celebrity status, cemented by his heroic action on Thursday. And the second part of his tweet, that heroism consisted of "consistent small acts of kindness, decency & love," are acts all Newarkers, and everyone of us, could do more, and Mayor Booker uses Twitter all the time to extol those virtues.

But doesn't it seem sometimes like all our leaders do is talk? And sometimes that talk can lead to bringing money into the city. The Mayor's been adept at getting Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg-like money into the city, as our last mayor, Sharpe James, brought in Bill Clinton and Christie Whitman money. Often these revenue sources are less transparent and less regular, and end up with city finances relying on city leaders. In 2006, the outgoing City Council famously tried to create a multi-million dollar slush fund out of state money to control after leaving office. Will the Facebook donation to schools leave if Booker chooses not to run in 2014? Will a vote against him then be against the money his celebrity status can bring?

Meanwhile, the City Council talks a lot too, but actions leading to more transparency in the way City Hall's run are sparse, with two members currently running for the vacant Congressional seat. They'll be running on their record at City Hall, which should put some of what's been happening in our municipal government in the last six years into the spotlight, since both Ron Rice and Donald Payne Jr were first elected to the Council in 2006, along with Booker.*

But we can't let our elected officials and political leaders be all talk, and it's important when the time comes to ask for our votes, like this season, we ask the questions not just about what they plan to do, but what they've done already.

*Irvington's Mayor Wayne Smith is running for Congress too, and his record there will play a similar role.

Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham and the News

posted Mar 22, 2012, 8:23 PM by   [ updated Mar 22, 2012, 8:23 PM ]

The police chief in the Florida town where an unarmed black teenager was killed by a self-styled neighborhood watch captain has resigned after intense national scrutiny. Seventeen year old Trayvon Martin was pursued and shot to death by George Zimmerman in a gated community in Sanford, Florida on February 25, coming back to his father's house with Skittles and an ice tea. The police chief claimed he could not challenge George Zimmerman's spurious self-defense claim. Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law provides immunity for those who use deadly force in self-defense, even if there is an opportunity to retreat. Even the original sponsor and author of the law, Dennis Baxley, says the law was not intended to be used by vigilantes or aggressors. Since the Sanford police chief's initial unwillingness to pursue charges against George Zimmerman, a grand jury has convened in the matter. Florida Governor Rick Scott, meanwhile, has ordered a task force to review the state's Stand Your Ground law. But the Florida police chief's resignation is not enough. Every homicide, even one that the perpetrator claims was justifiable, ought to be investigated by the police. Evidence ought to be collected. What used to be known as police work. That didn't happen in the Sanford police department, and that bears an investigation.

In New York City, meanwhile, shooting unarmed black teenagers often falls right under "police work." On February 3, cops chased 18 year old Ramarley Graham into his grandmother's house in the Bronx, where they shot him in the back in a second floor bathroom. No Stand Your Ground law protects the cops, who claim they were in mortal danger from the unarmed black teenager, yet it took more than a month before a grand jury was convened for the homicide. And of course, no one would expect New York City's police commissioner Ray Kelly to resign over the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of the cops pursuing him. No drugs were found on Ramarley Graham's person or in the home, but cops allege to have seen Ramarley participate in a narcotics transaction on the street outside his grandmother's house. No rain, no hoodies. The suspicion that a teenager is selling drugs outside his home on a Friday afternoon, it would seem, is enough to mute calls for justice when he's chased into his grandmother's bathroom and shot to death.  In the six weeks since the incident, media coverage has been minimal. The grand jury, which convened last week, is not expected to conclude for several weeks. Ramarley Graham's family, perhaps unsurprisingly, is  pessimistic after meeting with Ray Kelly. 

Here in Newark, meanwhile, the murders of black teenagers, armed or unarmed, are no longer even regularly reported in the local papers.

This is what democracy looks like

posted Mar 7, 2012, 6:17 AM by

Rep. Dennis Kucinich lost his election in a redrawn district yesterday. Last year, Ohio's Democrats and Republicans got together to draw a Congressional map for Ohio that would make it difficult for Dennis Kucinich to return to Congress, and it's worked, with the Congressman losing to fellow Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur who, according to Kucinich, "ran a campaign lacking in integrity, filled with false truths." Now she faces Joe the Plumber (the fake plumber with the fake question for then candidate Barack Obama on the campaign trail in Ohio in 2008) in a competitive election. This is what democracy looks like.

In the meantime, in the 2008 election Dennis Kucinich got six times more votes for President than the man second in line for the office today, Vice President Joe Biden, who also ran for President four years ago along with Dennis Kucinich, Hillary Clinton and of course the eventual winner Barack Obama. The Democrats' eagerness to push Dennis Kucinich out of office speaks volumes to the commitment they have to the principles they pay so much lip service to.

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