Category Archives: Civil Rights

Now Available! ~ Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence

Killing Trayvons

Skin privilege. When you’re black it seems the hardest thing to explain to whites. Even the most conscious or liberal whites sometimes don’t quite get it. Or as Langston Hughes once said, “A liberal is one who complains about segregated railroad cars but rides in the all white section.”

The killing of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 rang yet another alarm about the costs of that privilege. Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.

With contributions from Robin D.G. Kelley, Rita Dove, Cornel West and Amy Goodman, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Alexander Cockburn, Etan Thomas, Tara Skurtu, bell hooks and Quassan Castro, June Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Tim Wise, Patricia Williams, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Vijay Prashad, Rodolfo Acuna, Jesmyn Ward and more, Killing Trayvons is an essential addition to the literature on race, violence and resistance.

Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence is set to be released early Summer 2014.

###

Editors:

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike!: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His books include Whiteout (with Alexander Cockburn), Grand Theft Pentagon, and Born Under a Bad Sky.

JoAnn Wypijewski regularly writes for The Nation and CounterPunch. Her books include Painting by Numbers.

Published by CounterPunch Books.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1ST LOOK | KAG Book Promotion, American Culture, American Politics, Black Culture | United States, Black Politics, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Cultural Essays, Drug Policy, Human Rights, Law Enforcement, Obama Administration, Poetry, Police Abuse|Brutality|Killings, Protest, The Obama Administration, The Press, white supremacy, Work of Comrades

After Trayvon: Revisiting MLK’s “Triple Evils” | Pamela Brown

In the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. defined the problem of America under the weight of the “triple evils” of racism, economic exploitation and war. In the 21st, the case of Trayvon Martin has created an existential crisis for black Americans and allies engaged in the struggle for racial justice. It underscores, again, that for many millions of people the “ism” felt as the greatest threat is not capitalism or militarism. Yet these effusions of persistent racism are enmeshed in a context: of growing inequality under neoliberal economic regimes and of wide-scale state-sponsored violence globally.  It is time for all people to revisit MLK’s “triple evils” in forming a strategy for resistance and a vision of the future — re-imagining what freedom might look like and how it might be achieved.

Pamela Brown

Pamela Brown

Kopkind’s 2013 Harvest Late Brunch fundraiser will be held Sunday, October 13, at 2 pm.  Our speaker is Pamela Brown.

Pam was deeply involved in Occupy Wall Street and has continued in its offshoot organizing and educational projects, at the convergence of race, class and debt. She is a columnist for Tidal Magazine and an organizer with the People’s Investigation of Wall Street. She was a founding member of Strike Debt and the Rolling Jubilee, and has been involved in campaigns and writing projects including the student debt pledge of refusal and the Debt Resistors Operations Manual. With a background in philosophy and media arts, Pam is currently a doctoral student in sociology at The New School.

Kopkind is a living memorial to the great radical journalist Andrew Kopkind. Each summer since 1999 it has been bringing together journalists, activists and filmmakers for week-long seminar/retreat sessions with the aim of thinking deeply, acting consciously, living expressively and extending the field for freedom, pleasure and imagination.

Out-of-towners, we have some rooms and cabins, so contact us if you’d like to stay the night.

Please Come! We Look Forward To Seeing You!

Leave a comment

Filed under Actions | Events, American Politics, Black Culture | United States, Black Politics, Civil Rights, Feminist Leaders, Police Abuse|Brutality|Killings, Political Ideology, Protest, Work of Comrades

Monique Reymond interviews Kevin Alexander Gray

So, I’m sitting on a bench outside the recording studio on Sunset and a woman dressed all in black rolls up on her bike and asks can she interview me… ~

Monique Reymond

Monique Reymond

The woman asking the questions is “Foley Artist” Monique Reymond.  Ms. Reymond is also a comedian.

 | July 13, 2013 ~ Why the Zimmerman Trial Made Me Ill ~ http://progressive.org/zimmerman-trial-made-me-ill

| July 17, 2013 ~ “No Rights That Any White Man is Bound to Respect” http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/17/what-it-feels-like-to-be-black-in-america/

| July 17, 2013 ~ Why the Zimmerman verdict is more important that O.J. ~ http://progressive.org/zimmerman-verdict-more-important-than-oj

Leave a comment

Filed under American Politics, American Progressive Politics, anti-war, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Movement & Message Music, Political Ideology, white supremacy

The legal fight to protect white power | By Kevin Alexander Gray

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 struck down laws supporting Jim Crow segregation and other measures designed to disenfranchise or disempower black voters.  When Congress enacted the law in 1965, it determined that racial discrimination in voting was prevalent in certain areas of the country, particularly in the South.  It has been renewed four times.  In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 for another twenty-five years. The vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

Opponents of the Act say it’s outdated and no longer necessary.  That it infringes upon states’ rights or sovereignty, and the South is being unfairly punished for racial discrimination that no longer exists.  They argue that the country now has over 10,500 black elected officials including the president and is in effect – “post-racial” in voting practices.

The case that has the VRA in jeopardy is Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.  Shelby County, a predominately white suburb of Birmingham, wants the Supreme Court to declare a part of Section 4 and Section 5 of Act unconstitutional.  The Court began hearing the case in March of this year.  They will rule on whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments and thus violated the 10th Amendment and Article IV of the Constitution.

Shelby County attorneys argue, “The violence, intimidation and subterfuge that led Congress to pass Section 5 and this court to uphold it no longer remains.” “The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in USA Today.

Alabama has several supporters of its outlook on the high court.  In 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Things have changed in the South.”  He wrote: “The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for pre-clearance.  The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”  In opening oral arguments on the Shelby County case Justice Antonin Scalia called the Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” 

Yet the law’s intent is to protect against the entitlement of primarily white men calling the shots and legislatively protecting the unchecked ability to so.  It’s about a fair playing field and making sure biased, bigoted or prejudiced lawmakers are not able to fix the rules to empower their group over others.

Make no mistake about it – the fight over the VRA is about “power, access to power and representative.”  It’s about who makes the rules as to who can vote, when and where they vote and who and what they can vote for.  It is a fight about turnout – limiting some, enhancing others.  As civil rights attorney John Brittain puts: “It’s a fight over a defensive procedural tactic that puts the burden on jurisdictions to prove it is not their intent to discriminate.”   

Here’s a quick overview of the VRA:

  • Section 2 prohibits voting discrimination, and any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result.  It prohibits drawing election districts that improperly dilute minorities’ voting power. This section is permanent and does not require renewal.  
  • Section 3 is how jurisdiction come to fall under or “bail in” to federal scrutiny.  It’s the process by which jurisdictions found to have a ‘pocket’ of discrimination may be required to seek pre-clearance under Section 5.   Section 4 provides a formula to identify those areas and sets remedies.  The jurisdictions covered under the Act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and most counties in Texas and Virginia.  Jurisdictions in California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and sections of New York City are also covered under the Act.
  • Section 4 also guarantees the right to register and vote to those with limited English proficiency.  It also addresses the ability of members of language minority groups to get information about the electoral process.
  • Additionally, Section 4 provides “bailout” from coverage under the Act. To qualify a jurisdiction must show that for the past ten years, it has not violated the Act. Exceptions may be made for small, immediately corrected violations.  The bailout applicant must show that it has worked to eliminate discriminatory voting practices and it has improved minority access to the electoral process.
  • Section 5, or “pre-clearance” – the “heart of the VRA,” requires that areas of the country with a history of voter suppression and intimidation determined by Section 4 – must submit any changes in their election laws or attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction to the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the District Court of the District of Columbia for approval. 

VRA supporters oppose shifting the “burden of proof” to the people or “plaintiffs” as opposed to those covered jurisdictions that have shown time and again they will try to slip something unsavory and unfair pass the people.  

If opponents of the Act have their way, plaintiffs – be they private citizens or the United States Department of Justice, will have the burden of proving intent (to discriminate) which for a private citizen will be both costly and discouraging in most cases.

Conservative “post-racialists” pretend that colorblindness is now the order of the day. Yet in 2011 and 2012, 19 states passed more than two-dozen measures that would have made it harder to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice called these schemes “the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era.”  Those measures included voter ID laws, – which some argue, are the “modern day equivalent of poll taxes,” early-voting cutbacks, and curbs on community-based voter registration drives – all of which disproportionately impacted minority and Democratic Party voters.   Moreover, in the last decade or so, lawmakers have broken up majority-minority districts with questionable redistricting practices.  African-American and Latino voters’ names are routinely purged from voter lists under the pretext that “election officials were cleaning them up.”  There’s also been attempts to suppress voting (mostly Democratic) in states like Ohio and Florida that played politics with voting hours in predominately minority precincts.

Most of the states passing restrictive voter ID laws are in the south and covered under Section 5 pre-clearance coverage.  They include states like Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida in the South, and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the North, just to name a few.  Voter ID laws in Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin were suppressed by the courts prior to the 2012 elections.  A DOJ ruling on the S.C. case, prior to the election, led to a federal court ruling that upheld a modified version of the law. It goes into effect in 2013. Moreover, in Texas a federal court recently refused to pre-clear the state legislature’s redistricting plan, finding “the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities.”  Because of Section 5, Texas was blocked from racial gerrymandering.

Back in June 2012, in the midst of a Presidential election year, Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the “cat out of the bag” when he said at a Republican State Committee meeting that the voter ID law was “going to allow Governor (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  A state judge blocked Pennsylvania from requiring voters to show photo identification in the November ’12 election but also ruled it could be implemented for future elections.

But don’t think its just Republicans who try to get around the Act.  Southern Democrats try to get around the law for pernicious reasons as well.  A couple of years back two white democratic legislators – a Senator and a House member from predominately black Fairfield County, tried to take over their local majorityblack school board by successfully passing a measure in the State Legislature that would have given them the power to appoint school board members and gain control of the board’s budget.  The law, had it stood, would have put back in place the same Constitutional setup that existed in the early 1900s.  In those days white supremacy was the order of the day in South Carolina.  It was a time when politicians openly spoke about “fixing” the state’s Constitution after Reconstruction ended to keep black people from power in perpetuity. 

Luckily, the state legislature failed to have their school board takeover scheme pre-cleared by the Justice Department as required by Section 5.  Once a challenge was filed the law was rejected.  One of the legislators, former Representative Boyd Brown, is now a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Unsurprisingly, the two white legislators were educated at a predominately white, private academy set up in response to school desegregation in the 60s.  Coincidentally, Justices Roberts and Scalia’s early education were at private, religious schools.

Additionally, the Act doesn’t just protect African Americans.  It protects alternative political parties. South Carolina is one of only a few states that permit fusion voting, allowing multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate.  Here in South Carolina I was a plaintiff in a 2010 lawsuit against the State Election Commission when it tried to require that political candidates formally notify the state elections commission, in advance of the primary election, of each party that might choose to nominate them and whose nomination they may seek.  The law would have in effect barred electoral fusion because alternative parties, which often choose to cross-nominate the winner of a major political party’s primary, cannot know who the major party candidate in the general election will be before the primaries actually takes place, and cannot put a candidate who hasn’t filed multiple intention forms on its ballot.

A federal court blocked implementation of the state’s requirement after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit charging that the requirement violated Section 5 and that it “severely impairs alternative political parties’ ability to get their candidates on the ballot in violation of the free speech protections of U.S. Constitution.”

Doubtless, the Voting Rights Act has been a “necessary and effective tool” in safeguarding minority-voting rights.  It is also a double-edge sword because it has helped bolster Republican control of southern state legislatures.  In that regard, some opponents and critics of the Act argue that Section 5 is often interpreted to require “racial gerrymandering” in order to ensure minority representation.  Some critics, black and white, mainly libertarians and white democrats, point out that while there’s been an increase in black representation in state houses and congressional districts across the south that African Americans have seats but no real voting power.  Moreover, southern white democrats say that the cost has been a more racially polarized set up where blacks negotiate with white Republicans when it comes time to draw representational lines which in turn fuels the rise of blue- dog conservative democrats who believe they have to be “republican-lite” to stand a chance of getting elected to any office.  And, in some states, Republicans are now attempting to make party registration law in the South, which will most likely lead to a black party – Democrats, and a white party – Republicans.

Even so, “racial gerrymandering” to perpetuate white entitlement is what a town in Shelby County was accused of doing in 2008, when it drew up a City Council redistricting plan that eliminated the city’s sole majority-black district, which had elected black councilmen for 18 years.  And while Shelby County argues before the Court that widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era had ended, and that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” on the county and other covered jurisdictions the “disfavored treatment” – over the years the county has had more than 200 discriminatory voting irregularities blocked by Section 5 objections. Just last year Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected the Shelby County case including in his ruling “anecdotal examples of discrimination from the past 25 years, mentioning openly racist lawmakers and poll officials, (and) an episode in Alabama where the doors to polling places were shut early to keep blacks out in last decade. ”

To their credit Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stated the obvious to Shelby County attorneys.  Sotomayor offered up,  “You may be the wrong party bringing this,” and “why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”  Kagan followed  saying, “you’re objecting to a formula, but under any formula that Congress could devise, it would capture Alabama.”

Problems aside, to weaken or invalidate the VRA would be a setback for the protection of voting rights.   In light of recent efforts to restrict minority voters’ rights, more, not less, need to be done to protect and expand the right to vote – to include restoration of voting rights for both ex-felons and those in prison.  The progressive voting rights’ agenda has in times past been “no second-class citizenship.”

There’s ample evidence to validate the need to maintain Sections 4 and 5.  ‘Any formula would capture Alabama.’ And as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund argues; “Comprehensive studies of case by case litigation under Section 2 of the VRA (a section covering all states), which compare jurisdictions that are covered by Section 5 with those that are not, strongly support Congress’s conclusion that certain areas have worse records of voting discrimination than others…”

Scalia has made it clear why this case is before the Court – it’s about race and white “race entitlement.” 

The Voting Rights Act was passed because no group is going to “apportion themselves out of power.” If the Court rules in favor of Shelby County in the face of its racist record, it will be doing nothing more than validating white power and racism.

 

3 Comments

Filed under American Politics, American Progressive Politics, Black Politics, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Obama Administration, The Obama Administration, white supremacy

Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty

Sister Helen Prejean

St. Bonaventure University hosted Sr. Helen Prejean’s talk on Nov. 11, 2008 regarding her vocation helping the poor and crusade to abolish capital punishment. Following bio is an 8-part YouTube video of her presentation.

“Sister Helen Prejean was born on April 21, 1939, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille (now known as The Congregation of St. Joseph) in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. She has been the Religious Education Director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans, the Formation Director for her religious community, and has taught junior and senior high school students.

Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.

Dead Man Walking

Upon Sonnier’s request, Sister Helen repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process. Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, it was also nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. It also made the International Best Seller List and has been translated into ten different languages.

In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. Produced by Polygram Pictures, the film was directed and written by Tim Robbins. The movie received four Oscar nominations including Tim Robbins for Best Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin'” for Best Song. Susan Sarandon won the award for Best Actress.”

http://www.prejean.org/

http://www.sisterhelen.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Prejean

[Note- the following is an 8 part video. Click at upper right for continuation or click onto Youtube for Parts 2-8]

Leave a comment

Filed under Anti Death Penalty, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, NOLA, racism, Work of Comrades

Martin Luther King more than starry-eyed dreamer

Monday, Jan. 16, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. ~ January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968

I listen to Martin Luther King’s speeches and sermons over and over again like some people listen to popular songs.

I have my favorites, such as “The Other America,” “Where Do We Go from Here,” “The Drum Major Instinct,” and “How Long, Not Long.” I like these better than “I Have a Dream” because they have more substance.

In “The Drum Major” sermon, King said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve” — regardless of your station in life. In “The Other America” speech, King preached about wasting billions on an “ill-considered war” while neglecting the poor here in America.

When you examine the levels of poverty and unemployment in the nation today, I believe that King would determine that the nation had failed to heed his vision of jobs, justice and peace.

These days it’s hard to compete with the mainstream’s success in making King just a starry-eyed “dreamer” and a commercial commodity.

I was watching a football game during the holiday season when a commercial from one of the major retail chains announcing its MLK Day Sale popped up on the screen. It didn’t even use an image of King, just the initials “MLK,” accompanied by an array of appliances marked down for “the one-day event.”

Looking back to the dedication of the King Memorial on the Mall in Washington this past October, you couldn’t ignore the many corporate sponsors of the monument. The list of supporters was a who’s who of American business — General Motors, Tommy Hilfiger, Verizon, General Electric and Wal-Mart, just to name a few.

Even so, I’m always thankful when Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes around. Whatever the advertisers try to sell you and the politicians try to tell you, King’s message of unconditional love and nonviolent redemptive good and his steadfast attack on the evils of racism, poverty and militarism just cannot be ignored.

They can try to co-opt him, but his image is always going to look odd next to a washing machine or a hamburger or a self-serving politician.

Gray is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. E-mail: pmproj@progressive.org; website: www.progressive.org.

South Carolina, MLK, Black America’s Invisibility

Leave a comment

Filed under Black Politics, Human Rights, Historic Photos - People, Civil Rights, American Culture, American Politics, Historic Black Politics & Figures, Black Culture | United States, American Progressive Politics, racism, Political Ideology

Kevin Alexander Gray on State Violence and the Murder of Troy Anthony Davis

KPFA FLASHPOINTS

Execution of Justice by Kim Nicolini

With the murder of Troy Anthony Davis by the state of Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a 2009 capital punishment opinion of  conservative associate, Justice Antonin Scalia, in which he ruled: “[T]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Still, the ultimate victory for Troy Davis is that he inspired millions of people – around the world and here in the United States – who want to live in a more peaceful and less violent society. In that regard Troy’s life and murder by the government was not in vain. Sometimes it takes a single incident to shake people up.

Bruce Dixon, managing editor@Black Agenda Report: ” It’s great that so many people signed Troy Davis’s petition and made themselves so visible as opponents of the death penalty. But Troy was clearly and obviously innocent, and imprisoned for decades, ultimately executed anyhow. But until we stand up for the rights of ALL the imprisoned, convicted and formerly convicted, including all those whose innocence, however you construe that word, is not so obvious and those who may in fact not even be innocent —- till we stand for their human rights to education, to health care and a decent chance at life by radically shrinking and ultimately ending the institution of prison the machine that convicts the literally innocent will retain legitimacy and roll on, doing what it does. In other words, coming out to oppose the execution of an obvious innocent person like Troy Davis is low hanging fruit. It’s good that so many are wiling to reach for it. But we will rarely be able to save even these till we de-legitimize the institution of prison and chop down the whole rotten tree.”

Amnesty International

To hear Kevin Alexander Gray’s interview click on header@top of page.  To contribute time or money to organizations working to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. click on any or all of the provided logos.  Click on Kim Nicolini’s artwork of Troy to link to his website which is being maintained by family and friends.  Or start, help start or join an existing anti-death-penalty group.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

The struggle continues.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

1 Comment

Filed under Actions | Events, American Politics, American Progressive Politics, Anti Death Penalty, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Historic Black Politics & Figures, Historic Photos - People, Human Rights, Law Enforcement, Police Abuse|Brutality|Killings, Political Ideology, Protest, racism, Work of Comrades