When I was a child in elementary school, we had fire drills, and earthquake drills and atomic bomb drills. The country was afraid that world leaders would destroy the planet and kill all its inhabitants in a nuclear war.
The atomic bomb drill we practiced had us bend over, put our heads down and crawl under our desks. The drill led to a funny parody by comedian Dick Gregory. In case of a nuclear attack, he said, we should “bend over, put our head between our knees, and kiss our ass goodbye.”
Thankfully, that doomsday never arrived. But we have just passed an even worse constitutional “doomsday” in this country — and it’s no laughing matter, because it will happen again.
Donald J. Trump, the impeached, philandering, multiple-bankrupted grifter who managed to win a term as president of the United States but suffered a devastating popular vote and Electoral College defeat for reelection on Nov. 3, along with dozens of members of Congress, 18 state attorneys general and dozens of “fellow travelers,” just demonstrated that they are willing to stop at nothing — including the open destruction of the constitutional principles they profess — in order to maintain political dominance in this country.
The Donald, who told more than 25,000 confirmed lies during his four years of hell in the White House, boasted that he got nearly 74 million votes in the just-concluded election, 11 million more than in 2016 when he won the presidency, even though his opponent in that contest got 66 million votes — 3 million more than he did. In 2020, he got more votes than any incumbent president in history, he bragged. What he didn’t say is that his opponent got more than 80 million votes, and defeated him in the key battleground states, resulting in a 306-232 Electoral College margin for Joe Biden — the same margin Trump declared to be a “landslide” in 2016.
Only this time, the prevaricating POTUS said that his opponent’s votes were illegitimate and that he was robbed of a second term. At least 55 times, #45 and his team challenged the vote outcome in courts in seven states, and twice before the Supreme Court. Virtually ach and every case was laughed out of court because there was no evidence — not a single shred of evidence — that there were any improper ballots cast resulting in his defeat! Not even the three justices he appointed to the Supreme Court backed his baseless, preposterous claims!
The final treason came when the attorney general of Texas — clearly pandering and sucking up for a pardon in the face of a five-year federal investigation into his own corruption — filed suit against the states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, alleging that the certified election results in those states be thrown out, and that despite the overwhelming will of the voters expressed at the ballot box in an open and free and fair election, Trump should be declared president.
They demonstrated openly that nothing — not the will of the voters, not the Constitution — should stand in the way of them holding on to power, because in those “suspect” states, the overwhelming majority of Black voters in Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee who chose Trump’s opponent Joe Biden were all fraudulent and had to be nullified!
Had that maneuver prevailed, there would be no reason to consider the United States anything resembling a “democratic republic.” That concept would have simply been tossed into the trash heap, and the Trumpified Republikkkan Party will have prevailed. Period.
After their defeat, the sore losers — including those from the mythical states of “New California” and “New Nevada,” suggested that they should bond with other “law-abiding states” and should “form a Union,” or better a new Confederacy. They should secede.
These fiends will not give up. They lost at Appomattox in 1865, but despite the Reconstruction, they did not give up. Their like-minded Nazi brethren lost again in Europe in 1945. They lost the Second Reconstruction when the civil rights movement dismantled apartheid from the lawbooks in this country in 1954 (though it remains in practice). They will not surrender, concede.
Their ultra-right-wing GOP standard-bearer Barry Goldwater was humiliated in the 1964 presidential election. Richard Nixon took up his mantle, only to later be disgraced and shamed from office. Then came Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, and finally, Donald J. Trump, who almost, almost pulled off the final fascist coup.
They are relentless. They are like the Terminator in the movie. Every atom of their being is aimed for white domination. And trust me, they will try again.
Donald J. Trump may have been defeated — this time — but Trumpism is far from dead.
We remember Emanuel Oates, Anton Black, Leonard Shand, Korryn Gaines, Manuel Espina, William Green, Tyrone West, Christopher Brown, Gary Hopkins Jr., Robert White, Finan Berhe, Freddie Gray, and too many more. These are the names of just a few of the Black Marylanders killed by police.
One victim of police killings, William Green, is the cousin of Nikki Owens, who is a strong advocate against police violence and for reimagining policing.
“This has to stop happening,” Owens said. “There are people left behind when you kill someone. These police officers don’t understand this.”
It is a terrible shame that over many years, and many killings, the General Assembly has yet to pass a reform to policing that has actually saved Black lives. Legislators owe it to the victims of police violence and their families to move their Black Lives Matter tweets and posts into action in the next legislative session. A coalition of more than 90 organizations across the state has five demands:
• Repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
• Revise the Maryland Public Information Act to make records of police internal investigations and misconduct records transparent so that we can hold police departments accountable for how they police their own.
• Statutory limits on police use of force.
• Get police out of our schools.
• Give Baltimore control of its police department.
On Oct. 29, community members came together for a People’s Hearing on police reform, where they discussed why these five demands are important. Even though they are only the first steps to begin to address all the ways in which policing needs to be reimagined to stop Maryland police from terrorizing Black and brown communities, these five demands will start to shift power over law enforcement into the hands of the community.
A Bill of Rights is meant to protect people from the government, not police from accountability.
During the People’s Hearing, Dorothy Elliott, mother of Archie Elliott III, who was killed in 1993 by police officers Jason Leavitt and Wayne Cheney, said: “Our loved ones should have equal justice, equity under the law. We demand to have our voices heard.”
LEOBR shields officers from discipline by stating that a police officer can only be disciplined after a mini-trial is conducted, with fellow officers as the judges. It’s an absurd way to run a workplace.
It is precisely because law enforcement officers have so much power over people they are supposed to serve — including legally killing them and depriving people of their liberty — that we cannot shield them from discipline. If LEOBR is repealed, officers would still have the same employment rights as any other state or local government employee.
As for a use of force policy, the statewide coalition agrees that a good one should have clear definitions of lethal and non-lethal force. Statistics have shown police are twice as likely to threaten or use force against Black and Latinx people than against white people, which is why creating an enforceable use of force policy for Maryland is so necessary.
This same systematic racism that pervades our policing system also trickles down to school police, called school resource officers. In Maryland, Black students make up 56% of school-based arrests statewide, even though they are only about a third of the student population. This is a gross disparity.
Getting the police out of our children’s schools is just one way we can curb the over-policing of Black and brown children. Children shouldn’t be treated like criminals for doing immature, childlike acts.
Fortunately, we can do better by our children and provide them with counseling and restorative approaches — all methods that have been proven to foster better behavior. To move closer to a better future for Black children in Maryland, police should no longer be walking the halls of our children’s schools.
McKayla Wilkes, a leader and activist in the community, spoke out against school resource officers. She has personally been affected by SROs while she was in school.
“I was put on probation for skipping school,” Wilkes said. “Instead of them offering me an ear, resources or someone to talk to, I was taken to jail. … What is it going to take to get these resource officers out of our schools? It’s only a matter of time before a situation that happens on the streets happens in our classrooms. These officers are armed. These are the same officers from the same police departments that are killing Black people.”
Policies that don’t fundamentally change the institution of law enforcement are simply Band-Aids on a corrupt system founded in white supremacy. Impactful steps are urgently needed to protect Black communities from police violence. Together, we can reimagine policing and finally begin to repair the decadeslong harm the police have done to Black communities.
While President Donald Trump continues to hog media attention with his dishonest “stolen election” claims, we should devote some attention to the good news that a diverse group of young progressive leaders was elected to office all across the country this year.
People For the American Way’s Next Up Victory Fund supports young progressive candidates who demonstrate leadership ability and a commitment to making positive change. Since 2017, we have helped more than 300 promising and accomplished young progressives get elected to state and local office.
This year, some of our endorsed candidates were running for office for the first time. Some were running for reelection. Some were stepping up to a position of greater responsibility. A majority were women and more than two-thirds were Black, Indigenous, or people of color. Eighty-five of them will be serving their communities in public office next year, and some of them will be helping to lead our nation in the years ahead.
Here are a few of the 2020 success stories that can give us all hope for a brighter future.
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott was elected the city’s youngest mayor since 1904. He was first elected to the city council in 2011 when he was just 27 years old — and he had already built a record of community service work. Next Up endorsed Scott in the primary election based on his record of fighting for better schools, working to end gun violence, and improving opportunities and wages for working families.
Christian Menefee became the first Black person and the youngest person ever elected as district attorney in Harris County, Texas. Harris County’s population is greater than the population of more than half the states. Next Up endorsed Menefee as part of a slate of candidates committed to stopping unjust police killings of civilians and protecting Black and brown communities through greater accountability for law enforcement.
In Florida, Nancy Metayer was elected to the Coral Springs City Commission. An environmental scientist and public health advocate, Metayer is the first Black woman and only the second Black person to serve on the commission in the city’s history.
In North Carolina, Ricky Hurtado became the first Latino Democrat to be elected to the state legislature and Nida Allam was elected to the Durham County Commission, making her the first Muslim woman elected to any office in the state.
Rebecca Mitchell was part of the success story in Georgia this year. She was elected to House District 106, unseating the powerful Republican House Ways and Means Committee chairman.
In addition to the importance of putting a diverse group of talented people in office, the excitement generated by these candidates can have “up-ballot” effects — boosting congressional and presidential candidates by increasing turnout. According to Time, part of the story in Georgia this year, where Next Up endorsed 17 candidates was “unprecedented youth voter turnout.”
The success of so many young progressive leaders is a hopeful affirmation that America’s future does not belong to white supremacists or politicians who try to delegitimize and disenfranchise Black voters. Our future belongs to Americans who embrace our destiny as a diverse, multiracial, multicultural democracy.
We all know that everyone doesn’t share that vision. Some are fighting it tooth and nail. One of the most harmful legacies of the Trump era is the way that he energized extremists and created a climate in which people could feel comfortable expressing their bigotry.
Those are all reasons why it is so important that we invest in young people who have a clear sense of where we are, where we need to go, and what it will take to get us there. We can’t wait to see the great things these young winners will accomplish in the years ahead.
Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation.
The coronavirus has shined a light on how systematic racism, unequal access to opportunity, and disinvestments in low-income communities and communities of color have compounded inequities that have long existed in our country. Black and Latino Americans, for example, are more likely to be hospitalized with and die of COVID-19, are less likely to have access to quality healthcare, and are experiencing disproportionate and devastating economic instability as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Black and Latino children are bearing the emotional impact of seeing their communities and families ravaged by the virus, and are more likely to encounter challenges with their education — which has largely moved online — due to a lack of access to high-speed internet and devices for learning. With a new presidential administration, we have an opportunity to begin on the path to a strong recovery from the pandemic. But COVID-19 recovery cannot happen without education recovery. And true education recovery must focus on ensuring every child’s civil right to quality teaching and learning in our nation’s public schools. The federal government — specifically the Biden-Harris administration’s Department of Education — can, and must, play a part in this work, by reinstating its role as a civil rights agency with a robust racial justice agenda.
To be sure, if we want to “build back better,” decisive and bold federal action is required. Historically, there have been times when the Education Department has prioritized its civil rights role to ensure that students — regardless of their race, background, ethnicity, native language, disability, LGBTQ status, housing status, or country of origin — have the opportunity to access a quality public education. But that role was abandoned under the 45th president.
As the Biden-Harris administration prepares to assume office, we believe there are important ways that the Education Department can address the immediate impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as our nation’s ongoing fight against systemic racism and injustice.
First, the Secretary of Education must use his or her platform to lead a nationwide conversation about education through a racial equity lens.
That conversation must center on the needs of students from marginalized communities, clearly illuminate the impacts of the pandemic, and demonstrate how those impacts interact with and exacerbate hundreds of years of systemic racism. That conversation, shaped by the secretary’s national bully pulpit, is critical to nudging our decentralized education system toward greater equity. It must be stewarded by a leader who intentionally creates and maintains space for feedback loops with communities that have been marginalized and most directly impacted by injustice.
Second, the Education Department must use all the levers at its disposal to combat educational inequities that existed prior to, and have been compounded by, the pandemic.
The department must work with Congress to take immediate action to close the digital divide, invest additional federal resources to address learning loss due to COVID-related disruptions, and incentivize states to revise their funding formulas to make them more equitable so that students with the greatest needs receive the resources that are necessary to succeed in college and careers. Part of this work will entail ensuring that, in places where cuts cannot be avoided, states and school districts are not disproportionately cutting public education funding from the highest-needs schools.
In the early months of 2021, the Biden-Harris administration also will be tasked with proposing a budget and advocating for that budget before Congress. We urge the new administration to hold firm to its promise to invest in programs that help our most underserved students thrive, by tripling funding for Title I; making college more affordable by doubling the maximum Pell Grant; and supporting community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions. Importantly, we hope the department will, along with robust investments, work with Congress to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, a fundamental lever in advancing racial equity and opportunity for today’s students.
Additionally, the department must immediately strengthen and re-issue prior guidance that supports a racial justice agenda. This includes guidance to states, schools, and institutions of higher education to legally pursue desegregation strategies that increase diversity. This also includes guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice related to ensuring that students of color aren’t disproportionately subjected to overly harsh school discipline practices.
The department also must issue guidance and take appropriate civil rights enforcement actions to ensure that students of color, Native students, English learners, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families have access to the same opportunities and resources as their peers. This includes access to advanced coursework, talented and diverse educators, and safe and supportive school environments.
Finally, almost exactly five years ago, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act ushered in a new era that provided states with greater flexibility to meet the needs of their local contexts. While the law provides guardrails that are designed to protect our most marginalized students, it required states to take greater responsibility for ensuring the civil rights of all students are protected. Unfortunately, and much to the concern of civil rights advocates like us, we’ve seen that the flexibility within the law and the lack of oversight by the current administration — alongside the many failures of the federal government in responding to COVID-19 — are widening gaps in access to educational opportunity for marginalized students. The Biden-Harris Education Department must right this wrong.
To do that, the incoming secretary must hold fast to ensuring that educators, families, and communities have accurate information about how students are performing in our K-12 schools, including data from statewide assessments, so that resources can be directed to schools and students in need.
Our communities are seeking the Department of Education’s leadership in fighting against the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and the deep, systemic disparities that threaten to create a second-class education system for students of color. We call upon the Biden-Harris administration to enforce federal education law, champion equitable policies, and implement a racial justice agenda as a sign of its commitment to dismantling the inequities that have denied students of color access to opportunity for far too long.
John B. King Jr. is the president and chief executive of the Education Trust and served as U.S. secretary of Education under President Obama. Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.
Those who believe that the concerns of numerous Black folks about the soon-to-be-available COVID-19 vaccine are unwarranted should check out the following observations and commentary about the American medical profession that are included in my book, “The Harlem Hospital Story: 100 Years of Struggle Against Illness and White Supremacy.”
Dr. W. Montague Cobb, who was a medical historian and professor of anatomy at Howard University and the first African American to earn a doctorate in anthropology, has been quoted as saying “Negro patients in countless numbers served to advance the cause of medical science through their reactions to new or little tried therapeutic measures. The use of the Negro patient for experimentation and the development of surgical procedures and techniques rests on a tradition that began with the advent of chattel slavery in America in 1619.”
In his book “Sins of the Fathers: A Study of the American Slave Trade, 1441-1807,” James Pope-Hennessey wrote, “Once the African captives were put ashore, the slave traders began earnestly selling moribund or ‘refuse’ Africans at public auctions to, among others, surgeons to be used for medical experimentation.”
Henry Irving Tragle, in his book “The Southampton Slave Revolt: A Compilation of Source Materials,” wrote, “.In the circulator of the South Carolina Medical School for that year (1831), I find this remarkable suggestion: ‘Some advantages of peculiar character are connected with this institution. No place in the United States affords so great opportunities for the questions of medical knowledge, subjects being obtained among the colored population in sufficient numbers for every purpose and proper dissection carried without offending an individual….’ The suggestion was made by a medical student in South Carolina in a letter to a friend in New Jersey.
According to William S. Drewry in his book “The Southampton Insurrection,” the body of Nat Turner who was executed for leading an armed revolt against enslavers “was delivered to the doctors who skinned it and made grease of the flesh. His skeleton was for many years the possession of Dr. Massenberg. …”
Dr. Frances Cress Welsing once wrote that concerned and aware Black people were very disturbed “by repeated attempts to imply that African people are the source responsible for the origin of this new deadly virus (AIDS) and for its spread throughout the world. … Aware Black people are knowledgeable about the long-standing Tuskegee syphilis experiments which were conducted for a period of 40 years (1932-1972) on unsuspecting Black men and their families. …”
All of the above show clearly that concerns of numerous Black folks about the possibility of white supremacy treatment in the medical profession are not unwarranted. Therefore, we as Black folks, while taking advantage of advances in medical treatment, must be on the alert for anything that reflects experimentation.
It’s too bad that I have to say this, but the United States of America is broken beyond repair. This country is not the shining Jewel on the Hill that people the world over are trying to emulate. Americans and their values are not “exceptional” as far as human endeavor is concerned. Soon, I suspect, we will all come to know it.
The United States is a racist, xenophobic empire which, in its brief history, has again and again robbed from the poor to indulge the fancies of the rich and which has duped most of its common citizens — even young children — into thinking that they are soon to become the next millionaires. It ain’t gonna happen.
The proof in my mind that the society is doomed, is the fact that 74 million people — and a majority of the white folks — voted to retain the corrupt, impeached, lying, philandering, and cheating narcissist Donald J. Trump. What’s even more shocking is that had that grifter shown even a modicum of compassion and even a tiny bit of concern for folks dying from the coronavirus pandemic, he might have actually won reelection!
Going forward, Trump refuses to concede his defeat — 80 million voted for his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden — boasting that his own vote total was more than any president ever. He has convinced his followers that the election was fraudulently stolen from him, and that measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are worthless, unless of course they make him look good. He has permanently poisoned the political drinking fountain so that millions now believe Trump’s wacky conspiracy theories.
This rabid, white tribe is baptized in cruelty and contempt for their fellow human beings. These guys don’t want deregulation, or a lower marginal tax rate, or even The Mexico Wall, or who pays for it. What they want is the freedom to talk openly about the people they hate, and to point guns at those innocents.
In the Georgia Senate runoff elections, for example, both Republican incumbents admittedly made millions of dollars on stock trades based on inside information they received as senators. In a scheduled debate with their Democratic challengers, one — David Perdue — didn’t even bother to show up. The other — Kelly Loeffler — denounced the Rev. Raphael Warnock, her opponent who pastors Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s home church, a “radical liberal.” A radical liberal — as if being either radical or liberal is a sin in this corrupt society!
With a few exceptions, in order for any Democratic politician to even ascend to that lofty level in this country, they have to expunge themselves of any really radical ideas. For example, liberals say $15 per hour minimum wage by 2024, but if wages had kept pace with average worker productivity increases, since 1997 when it was $5.15 per hour, today the minimum would already be $22.50 an hour. Today, two $15 an hour salaries are required to house and feed a family in this country, but your millionaires declare that only “radicals” want higher wages, which they say depresses job creation.
Sure, if they could pay a worker less than the current $7.25 minimum hourly wage, they would do so. That’s what the “minimum wage” means. Remember, there was 100 percent Black employment (0 percent Black unemployment) during chattel slavery.
In the name of their precious white, tribal priorities, Republicans are unforgiving in their hatred of the potential rise of Black people. They label the Black Lives Matter movement as radical. They’ve even got Barack Obama, an iconic figure who is as popular as Jesus among Black folks, declaring that “slogans” like “defund the police” are not helpful in the society.
Sadly, former NFL star Michael Vick served more time in jail for his conduct toward dogs than did all the cops who killed innocent Black men Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice — combined!
But leave it to white Americans, and there would be a gun-toting cop on every corner where Black people live. What should be normal is the Native American model, where there was no homelessness, and jails were not necessary.
I’m telling you; the white American model is irreparably broken. It cannot be fixed for the good of humanity. At some point in the near future, we will all come to see that is true. America is broken beyond repair.
The story behind the Christian tradition of Christmas – that is the birth of Christ – was etched into my memory decades ago. But for children, while Jesus may be the reason for the season, Christmas is all about family gatherings, taking trips to visit grandparents and of course, trying to keep their noses clean so that they remain on Santa’s “nice list.”
However, after reaching the age during which St. Nicholas lost his hold over me and my every waking thought, there were other elements of the season that grew in both importance and relevance, most notably the sights, the sounds and the smells of Christmas.
When I was a little boy, our family only had one color TV in the house – believe it or not. It was a very heavy RCA television that Daddy had placed in the living room.
I guess we were lucky to have what was then a technological wonder since some of our relatives, in their exuberance to experience “color TV,” had taken their black and white components and placed strips of crepe paper across the screen for a unique “colorful encounter.” Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.
With my mother and most of my aunts being elementary school teachers, and with Momma having an unquenchable love for music and laughter, it was a foregone conclusion that when any of the Christmas movies were being shown, we’d all converge in front of the television. I would be warm and cozy in my pajamas that featured “the feet” sewn in since I could never seem to keep up with both of my slippers.
My parents would sip on their specially-concocted “eggnog cocktails” while I nibbled on Christmas cookies, sweet potato pie and homemade vanilla ice cream.
But it was the movies that made those evenings with my parents and my older sister so unforgettable. More than 50 years later, I still remember every lyric, every phrase uttered by the characters – even most of the song-and-dance routines which were foundational to my favorite Christmas movies.
My earliest memories are of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” who learns that being different should not be viewed as something negative. We all have our unique gifts and talents. The point is embracing them and discovering how they can contribute to the larger community. I still know all of the words to those Burl Ives classics.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” also had several messages – lessons for both children and adults. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me shout. And with its beautiful music, it even gave me inspiration. After all, it was Schroeder playing versions of “Jingle Bells” and then Beethoven who inspired me to begin playing the piano.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” always seemed rather silly to me. But after becoming a father and later a grandfather, I grew to understand the multiplicity of teachable moments that can be found and shared in this holiday classic. And by the way, just where did Cindy Lou Who and the rest of the Who people come from, anyway? And were there any Who people of color? That’s a thought I’ve had in recent years.
A few films have become almost as important to me as prayer in the morning, quiet time for reflection after dinner and daily walks to the park with my two beloved girls, my boxer Baby Girl and the latest edition – a tiny Dachshund who we found abandoned in the park a few months ago who I’ve named Duchess.
First, there’s the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol.” All other versions pale in comparison to this one which I prefer seeing in its original black and white. Who needs Ted Turner’s “colorized” version? Some things are best if they remain as they were. This was my mom’s favorite holiday movie – this and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” They remind me of times when life was full of promise, when the world appeared to be a place filled with magic where all of my dreams could come true. After all, if Ebenezer Scrooge could change and if Tiny Tim’s future could be recast for the better, than certainly all things were possible.
For laughs, there are two movies that stand out: “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story.” Ironically, as a youth, the absence of little brown boys who looked like me in either of the films never bothered me. I’ve since concluded that if you understand the true meaning of Christmas, you understand that it’s not about the external trappings which we often allow to hold us back. It’s a spiritual encounter.
Finally, there’s Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington who bring Black culture to the 1947 version of “The Bishop’s Wife” in roles originally portrayed by Loretta Young and the debonair Cary Grant – this time in “The Preacher’s Wife.” Whitney sang like she never sang before. And who could resist Denzel back in the day? Whitney should have gotten an Oscar just for being able to say, ‘No.”
Lest I forget, a new classic, just released this year, has joined my list: the Netflix original, “Jingle Jangle.” I take my hat off to John Legend who co-wrote the songs and served among the team of producers. It’s a beautifully written work with dancing, singing and powerful messages – replete with moments that will make you laugh and cry. Best of all, the young children featured in the movie are talented far beyond their years – and they look like my little bronze-colored grandson.
These are a few of my favorite things. What are some of yours?
It is going to be a hard Christmas for many Americans. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is soaring. The virus is spreading faster than ever. Families and small-business owners whose incomes have been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic are being hurt by the U.S. Senate’s refusal to provide any relief since April.
This suffering is not shared equally. Black and brown people have been hit harder than other Americans by the pandemic in many ways. We get sicker and die more often. We have been hit harder by the economic fallout, too. And Senate Republicans’ refusal to give Americans what is needed to protect our families and get the economy going again just extends the inequitable burden that we are bearing.
There is no mystery about the source of the problem. It is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused to even consider a meaningful COVID-19 relief bill, including the HEROES Act passed by the House of Representatives more than six months ago.
Even the Trump administration was willing to negotiate with Democrats, but McConnell has acted in bad faith. McConnell held relief hostage because he has insisted that any legislation must exempt companies from legal accountability for outbreaks or deaths within workplaces. Before the election, he told Trump not to make a deal with Democrats. And since then, he has cut his already weak counteroffer in half.
Does the wealthy McConnell not understand how many Americans are going hungry? Twenty-two percent of Black households reported going hungry in one recent week, which The Washington Post noted was more than double the rate for white Americans.
As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and State Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to McConnell before Thanksgiving, economists agree that the country needs a much bigger aid package than he has been willing to consider to keep people and the economy from sinking further.
If the Senate doesn’t act now, more Americans will be hurt. Unemployment benefits run out the day after Christmas. A freeze on student loan payments, protections against evictions, and expanded paid family medical leave will all run out at the end of the month.
The threat to families is devastating. Almost one-third of Black renters have fallen behind on their rent. Meanwhile, in spite of the moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, the real estate management company owned in part by Trump’s son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner is suing to evict hundreds of tenants who have fallen behind on their rent.
The need for action is urgent. But McConnell has used the Senate’s time this fall to push right-wing Trump judges into lifetime positions on the federal courts. He adjourned the Senate for Thanksgiving without bringing up relief legislation.
President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have put the new administration’s coronavirus task force in place. Biden has called on Congress to pass legislation like the HEROES Act the House passed back in May. It is long past time for Senate Republicans to deal with their Democratic colleagues in good faith, and to give American families the relief they need and deserve.
Ben Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation.
CHAVIS: Stopping the Exploitation of Prisoners and Their Families Requires More Comprehensive Solutions
2020 brought renewed global focus to issues of social justice in America. From the racial disparities and inequities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic to the killings of George Floyd and so many other Black and brown Americans at the hands of police officers have all contributed to the evolving social justice “reckoning” across the nation. As part of this long-overdue redress about institutional and systemic racism, renewed attention should also be focused on the many injustices within the U.S. correctional system. Black and brown Americans are disproportionately imprisoned in the United States. Much of the public outrage has been directed at officials who have been unable to prevent the fatal spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons throughout the country. But in addition, there were too many governors who were unwilling to reduce prison populations by releasing individuals who posed no threat to public safety. As a result, nearly 200,000 incarcerated Americans have been infected as of November 2020 according to the Marshall Project. And the criticism of the correctional system does not stop with the prison officials themselves but extends to the full spectrum of private companies that provide services to correctional agencies. Among those that find themselves in the crosshairs of the growing critical scrutiny are a group of specialized telecommunications companies. These companies provide two connected services to the corrections industry: communications tools that people in jails and prisons use to connect with family and people on the outside (telephones, but also modern devices like digital tablets); and security and investigatory tools built into the communications tech, which help correctional agencies monitor for criminal activity. On the surface, these may appear to be both good things. The problem, however, comes in how these products are paid for. See, it’s not the correctional agencies that pay for these services — companies charge for every call made, but it’s the families and friends of the imprisoned making the calls or accepting the calls that end up paying those bills. It obviously costs money to build, install, maintain and secure this technology. But not all or even most of this money that is paid for those services goes to the telecoms themselves. What most people do not know is that the government takes a cut of the revenue — in many cases, the lion’s share. For example, in 2018 incarcerated individuals in Connecticut paid $13.2 million for phone calls. Nearly 60% of that money went to the state. Because of this model, the cost of making a call or sending an email from a correctional facility can be much higher than on the outside. And these costs can vary widely from state to state. In 2019, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average cost of a call from a jail in New Jersey cost $1.26, while that same call in Arkansas cost $14.49. Prison telecom companies have faced strong criticism in recent years from elected and community leaders for their role in these charges. I have expressed concern about the way these contracts put an unreasonable financial burden on families in our communities. In my civil rights career, I have experienced firsthand how prisoners and their families are taken advantage of and financially challenged by jail and prison regulated services. And at least one of these companies, Securus Technologies, appears to have taken this criticism to heart. In 2017, Securus was acquired by Platinum Equity, which is headed by Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores. At the time, many of us would have reasonably assumed that a private equity firm would simply extract as much value from the company as possible and then sell it at a profit. But that’s not what Gores did. Instead, he appears to have undertaken an effort to change some of the problematic business practices that have long plagued the correctional telecom industry. At the beginning of this year, Gores brought in a new CEO for Securus, who committed to lowering their prices and improving the services they provide to incarcerated Americans. If you approach such a promise with a healthy dose of skepticism, you’re not alone — especially knowing the history of this industry. But for the moment, Securus seems to be making good on its promises. According to company updates, Securus has so far reduced the average cost of calls by 30%. It has renegotiated lower rates with 56 correctional agencies this year. It has been offering free calls and other communications to incarcerated individuals affected by the pandemic — over 30 million to date. Was that enough? No. Far from it. But it was an important start, and one that no other company in the prison telecom space has so far matched. Yet Gores appears to have been singled out for criticism by a group of advocates for the incarcerated. Sometimes even those with good intentions can find themselves caught up in the systemic problems of the correctional industry. Those attacks came to a head this year when critics demanded that the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) remove Gores from its board. They called him a “prison profiteer,” despite the fact that — as the LA Times notes — Gores had pledged 100% of his personal stake in Securus to helping reform its operations. LACMA eventually bowed to pressure and, to avoid further friction, Gores resigned his seat. This is exactly an example of the consequences of poor judgment in public advocacy that does not actually help bring relief to the families of the mass incarcerated. Did LACMA improve the life of a single incarcerated individual by doing so? It did not. To be clear, the prison telecom industry remains in need of serious reform. We need to hold Securus and other telecoms accountable for changing their harmful business practices. But if we want people to do the right thing then we need to acknowledge when they actually strive to do the right thing. So where do we go from here? The solution is not, as some have suggested, to eliminate these companies altogether. The services they provide are needed and few believe they could be offered at the same quality or efficiency by the public sector. And the security tools offered are necessary as well — among other things, they help prevent attempts to cause harm from within prison walls, from harassing victims to operating criminal activities on the outside. But individuals who have been sentenced to prison for a crime are already paying their debt to society. They should not also be forced to pay to help plug holes in the budget of a local warden or sheriff. State and county officials need to stop collecting “commissions” on these services and, where possible, they should contribute public funds to reduce the costs of these communications tools for incarcerated Americans. Securus also needs to go further. Although they have lowered costs, their products remain far too costly for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. And their competitors need to follow suit — including the biggest operator in this space, Global Tel Link. While our democracy remains politically, socially and economically divided, we all have just witnessed the transformative power of the vote by millions of people who care about the future of our nation. Ultimately, correctional telecom companies depend on contracts from state and local correct agencies. The heads of those agencies are appointed by elected officials. Criminal justice reform was on the national ballot. Voters must now hold all elected officials accountable on a wide array of issues including the issue of improving the telecom services offered to prisoners and their families. Stop the exploitation of prisoners and their families. Prison wardens, county sheriffs and state officials resolutely should stop taking advantage of incarcerated people. Chavis is president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and executive producer/host of “The Chavis Chronicles” (www.TheChavisChronicles.com and [email protected]).
Leave it to Donald Trump to run brazen subversion — refusal to accept the decision of the voters in the presidential election — as a clown show, marked by wingbat lawyers, delusional tweets, and hailstorms of lies. The noise, however, should not delude us: Trump is leading an American counterreformation right to the edge of secession, if not beyond. And at the core of this is America’s continued struggle with race. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the president’s lapdog, who just survived a challenge by an African-American Democrat, gave the game away when he declared — on Fox TV, naturally — “If we don’t challenge and change the U.S. election system, there’ll never be another Republican president elected again. President Trump should not concede.”
Trump’s defeat revives the horrors Republicans felt with the election of Barack Obama: the stark realization that a party built on racial division as the party of white sanctuary could not survive in a multiracial democracy. Beginning with Barry Goldwater, Republicans grounded their party in the South, building a majority with race-bait politics to divide working people.
Trump was the extreme expression of the strategy, rising to notoriety by questioning Obama’s citizenship, winning with a campaign raising racial fears of lawless immigrants, and governing in the interests of the wealthy, the country club and the special interests. Trump has sought to undermine this election from the start. For years, he and his party engaged in systematic voter suppression — using gerrymandering, voter intimidation, purges of the voting rolls, restricting the time and places for balloting, imposing new ID requirements and more.
Then, even before a vote was cast, Trump charged there would be massive electoral fraud. If Trump had won, he would have said it was against the odds. Having lost, he claimed it was rigged. Then he unleashed his clown lawyers to paper the courts with lawsuits challenging votes without evidence. When even Republican judges rejected his claims, he continued to claim the election was stolen, even as he uses his lame-duck period to deepen the crises he leaves Biden. He has withdrawn from the open skies agreement with Russia.
His Treasury secretary has closed down loan facilities for small businesses that the head of the Federal Reserve says are important in fighting the recession. He’s done nothing to get the Republican Senate to pass a rescue package to aid the millions still unemployed. Legislators fear he will shut down the government unless he gets big money to build his wall. Trump won’t succeed in maintaining power, but he is already succeeding in convincing his followers that the Biden presidency is illegitimate. The last time the election of a president was contested — with race at the center of the dispute — was in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln, when the slave states seceded and the country descended into the Civil War.
The Jefferson Davis of this time, Donald Trump is not likely to lead a formal secession. Instead he seems intent on using this lame-duck period to undermine the incoming administration. As a lame duck, he is essentially unaccountable, particularly with the Republican Senate not willing to provide a check on his misfeasance. Clearly, there should be a bipartisan committee drawn from both houses of Congress to oversee the lame-duck period and limit the damage a bitter untethered president can do. After he leaves office, Trump is likely to set up a sort of shadow government, using his tweets and media appearances to denounce the Biden administration. Republicans, in fear of the wrath of his supporters, will obstruct Biden at every turn.
What Trump has made clear is that this subversion won’t end when Biden is inaugurated. It is likely to get more turbulent rather than less. The stakes are very high. Will the multiracial majority be able to build a governing coalition that can begin to address the fundamental reforms that Americans so desperately need? Or will the embattled minority sabotage that possibility, divide the country or even move toward secession once more? In rejecting the verdict of the voters, Trump is charting a road to division. Americans must find a way to reach out, come together and go a different way.