Washington, DC (Aug. 9) - Troubling
news came in a report Black Victims of Violent Crime from the Bureau of
Justice Statistics (BJS), a division of the U.S. Department of
Justice. It states:
"Blacks were victims of an estimated 805,000 nonfatal violent crimes and about 8,000 homicides in 2005."
This would amount to 49 percent of all U.S. murder victims during that
year and 15 percent of all non-fatal violent crimes -- the latter
category includes victims of rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated
assault and simple assault.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans numbered about
35 million -- just over 12 percent of the total population -- in 2005.
Males made up 85 percent of all Black murder victims. Another
demographic indicated that more than half (51%) of Black homicide
victims were between the ages of 17 and 29.
The report indicates that 93 percent of Black murder victims and 85
percent of White murder victims (in single victim/single offender
matches) were slain by someone of their own race.
It states, “About four-fifths of Black victims of nonfatal violence
perceived the offenders to be Black. About 12 percent of Black victims
perceived the offender to be White, while about eight percent thought
the offender was neither Black nor White.”
Violence in America has the remarkable characteristic of being done by
those who are close to us. Prevailing perspectives are not always
founded on solid perceptions. Crime for the most part is intra-racial
(not inter-racial, as many fears and false reports present). The report
indicated that Blacks (78%) were more likely to be victims of
intraracial violence than Whites (70%).
“Black males were more likely to be
violently victimized by strangers than Black females. Black female victims of violent crime were
more likely than Black male victims to be victimized by an intimate partner.
Intimate partner violence accounted for 21 percent of violent victimizations
against Black females, compared to about five percent of victimizations against
Black males. The gender disparity for intimate partner violence among Blacks
was similar to that for other victims [of other races].”
A conclusion from the BJS five-year study
(2001-2005) of non-fatal violent crimes is: Black folk who were either younger, never
married, low income earners, or urban residents were more subject to violent
victimization than their counterparts who were either older, folks of other
marital status, high income, or rural or suburban dwellers.In this period, about 55 percent of all violent
crimes committed against Blacks were reported to police.
News of the BJS report will no doubt become
the concern of many. Within its 12 pages, the report is a “sea” of short
comments with a lot of numbers. The persistence of violence in
African-American communities and perpetrated against individuals throughout the land is cause for
further needful reflection, understanding, engagement, and action.
David M. Whettstone is a Washington, DC-based public policy advocate and
writer, who works on national and local issues (including civil rights and
criminal justice) and with religious and community-based organizations.
As the summer closes, a number of significant mileposts have occurred regarding America's favorite pastime, baseball.
Jackie Robinson was again commemorated. To honor him this year, Major League Baseball (MLB) players donned Number 42 (the number now retired is no longer worn) for Jackie Robinson Day. The season has complemented this event with repeated recognition of Mr. Robinson's life and the 60th anniversary of his entry into the National Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers, April 15, 1947.
Some fans suggest MLB retirement of Larry Doby's No. 14 be as he endured hardships similar to Robinson's when he was the second African American to enter the Major Leagues and the first for the American League, 11 weeks later playing for the Cleveland Indians. The team has retired his number. It took 33 years for Mr. Doby to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Homage has been given to other superstars as well. Many who have baseball on their minds perennially think of Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, who was honored at this year's All Star Game.
This year (2007) marks the start of the MLB's annual Civil Rights Game which will always be played in Memphis, Tennessee. The city was chosen to honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. However, the inaugural match up between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians was not without controversy. The identity and participation of the latter team poses an affront to First Nations people. Cherokee people populate the Memphis vicinity and were part of the Native American tribes (i.e., bands/nations) forced to sojourn The Trail of Tears which passed through the area.
August has brought two other notable baseball occasions:
San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds surpassed Hank Aaron's leading record of 755 home runs. In the midst of controversy and mixed feelings, Mr. Aaron graciously recorded a video message to congratulate Barry Bonds. Readers may want to check out Terence Moore's Atlanta Journal-Constitution column, Aaron Happy to Be Finished with It All, and an Associated Press feature at SI.com regarding this hallmark.
Henry Louis Aaron will always outstandingly represent endurance, courage, wisdom, poise, and dignity to say the least.
Facing overt and subtle racism, one wonders how he and other veterans of color of the game thrived. This may still be an issue for present times. There's a new twist to the matter of subtlety, recent news indicates:
One pitch can make a difference.
A study concludes that major league home plate umpires are more likely to call strikes for pitchers of the same race or ethnicity. The research team was led by Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin. They analyzed every pitch from the 2004 through 2006 major league seasons, about 2.1 million, to see if discrimination occurred with calls for either balls or strikes.
Disparities were found to involve one percent of pitches. This would at least average to one pitch per game. It does not take long (even for the non-fanatical baseball observer) to realize that one pitch does count, possibly affecting the outcome of a game. By some estimates, a typical game may involve about 75 - 135 calls on pitches for each team.
Allegedly, potential disparities are mitigated when the umpire's calls are more closely scrutinized. Such factors would include ballpark electronic monitoring systems, watchfulness of full count situations (a pending pitch on the count of 3
balls and 2 strikes), or play under the auspices of well-attended games.
Is this another case for civil rights monitoring ... analogous to efforts preventing racial profiling? One is also reminded of heated debates, earlier this year, as to whether National Basketball Association referees exercised racial bias with their calls. Questions give new meaning to the phrase, "Let's go to the video tape."
There may be other implications as well. The power to evaluate and judge a player's performance remains overwhelmingly White, 87 percent of umpires and 71 percent of major league pitchers are White. Blacks make up three percent of pitching staffs. This study did not find disparities associated with racial differences between batters and umpire.
A pitcher's record, his value individually and that associated with a team's record of wins and losses, speaks volumes for further employment and lucrative compensation. The whole nature of baseball's labor market/force can be impacted. According to The 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball from the DeVos Sport Business Management Program of the University of Central Florida, there were 707 White, 100 African American, 350 Latino, 29 Asian, and 3 other players.
Black players made up about a peak 27 percent of players in the mid-1970s; last season they were slightly over eight percent share. Dare to think about and compare this sport to other sport industries. The MLB is now at work to attract more players of color ("minorities").
With baseball's mileposts and a cavalcade of heroes and legends there is an acknowledgment of individual achievement. Yet an engagement with the systemic is also needful. In the larger frame of things -- our institutions, organizations, history, and activities of life -- systems affect the advancement and thriving of all people. Recognition is useful regarding the past and present, but action is needed for securing the best future. Let's (everybody) play ball.
David M. Whettstone is a Washington, DC-based public policy advocate and
writer, who works on national and local issues (including civil rights and
criminal justice) and with religious and community-based organizations. By now you probably know he likes baseball.
Let's take time to remember jazz great, drummer Max Roach who died at age 83, August 16, 2007.
His life spanned many generations and eras. A prodigy, virtuoso, composer, and activist, he often cited as a founder and leader of modern jazz. He collaborated and played with the company of greats -- Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Abbey Lincoln (at one time, his wife), Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Sonny Rollins.
Mr. Roach is credited with taking us through bebop to hard bop and beyond. A powerful provider of imagination and innovation throughout the ages, a phrase frequently used regarding Mr. Roach is "he rewrote the rules of drumming."
In response to mounting ecological crises, the United States is going through its most important economic transformation since the New Deal. Unfortunately, the vital process of change along more eco-friendly lines is moving ahead with practically zero participation from people of color.
Hundreds of mayors and several governors are bucking the Bush administration and committing themselves to the carbon-cutting principles of the Kyoto treaty on climate change. The U.S. Congress is debating an energy bill this year that could be a watershed for alternative energy sources. What’s more, regular people are way ahead of these leaders. U.S polls show super-majorities want strong action on the climate crisis and other environmental perils. And consumers are reshaping markets by demanding hybrid cars, bio-fuels, solar panels, organic food and more. As a result, the “lifestyles of health and sustainability” sector of the U.S. economy has ballooned into a $240 billion gold mine. And total sales are growing on a near-vertical axis.
The Economist magazine calls it “The Greening of America.” Indeed, we are witnessing the slow death of the Earth-devouring, suicidal version of capitalism. We’re even seeing the birth of some form of “eco-capitalism.” To be sure, a more “ecologically sound” market system will not be a utopia. But at least it will buy our species a few extra decades or centuries on this planet.
That’s the good news. Here is the bad news.
The celebrated "lifestyles" sector is probably the most racially segregated part of the U.S. economy; at present, it is almost exclusively the province of affluent white people. Few entrepreneurs of color are positioned to reap the benefits of the government’s push to green the economy. We are seeing a major debate about the direction of the U.S. economy—in which communities of color apparently have nothing to say. Our near-silence on such key issues has no precedent, at least not since before the Civil War.
How can this be? Black, Latino, Asian and Native American communities suffer the most from the environmental ills of our industrial society. Our folks desperately need the new economic activity, investments and opportunities that this major transition is beginning to generate. To put it bluntly, people of color have much more directly at stake in the greening of America than white college students do. Why are they marching for carbon caps, while most of us just yawn and change the channel?
When these new formations and networks emerge, all racial justice activists will become, in some sense, environmental justice activists.
More people of color have not yet grabbed the microphone for three reasons: our long-standing pattern of viewing environmental issues as luxury concerns; the mainstream media’s “whites only” coverage of the green phenomenon; and serious structural impediments to action within the racial justice movement itself.
First of all, too often we have said: “We are overwhelmed with violence, bad housing, failing schools, excessive incarceration, poor healthcare and joblessness. We can’t afford to worry about spotted owls, redwood trees and polar bears.” But Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath taught us that the coming ecological disasters will hit the poor first and worst. More of us are beginning to see that there can be no separation between our concern for vulnerable people and our concern for a vulnerable planet.
Secondly, any U.S. magazine’s “Special Green Issue” typically will not show many people of color, despite the incredible achievements of numerous environmentalists of color across the country. Many racial justice activists see this kind of coverage, shrug our shoulders and understandably assume that green equals white.
But this is a mistake. When did we start trusting the corporate media to fairly calculate our interests in any major topic or development in U.S. society? When have our activists and advocates ever accepted their frame and parameters in determining what is important or what we should do? It should not surprise anyone that the mainstream media does not reflect our deep and profound interests in the greening of the economy. And it is high time for us to make our own assessment and create our own strategy for shaping the process in accordance with our interests.
Finally, at least among committed activists, there is a deeper reason that we have not mobilized at the appropriate scale. And that reason can be found within the structure of our racial justice movement itself. Our present deployment of resources simply does not let us meet the challenges and opportunities that the green revolution is generating, simply because it is nobody’s job to take them on. Click here to read more
In 2006, we “celebrated” the 20th anniversary of one of the most racially biased laws ever enacted by the U.S. Congress – the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which established the federal 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.
Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 in response to the death of Len Bias, an African American college basketball star who died of a drug overdose three days after being drafted to the Boston Celtics. At the time, Congress believed he died from a crack overdose, when it turned out that his death was caused by a combination of alcohol and powder cocaine. By the time this was discovered, the law was already passed.
Since the law’s passage in 1986, authorities have unfairly punished crack cocaine users more harshly than those who sell powder cocaine. Currently, if a person gets caught distributing 5 grams of crack cocaine, he or she is automatically subject to a 5-year mandatory minimum prison sentence; conversely, that same person can get a 5-year sentence by distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine. This law is unfair and must be changed.
The 100:1 disparity is wrongly based on enduring myths surrounding crack cocaine use – that it’s instantly addictive and makes people more violent than powder cocaine users. A 1996 study by the American Medical Association found that the physiological and psychoactive effects of cocaine are similar regardless of whether it is in the form of powder or crack.
The federal crack cocaine sentencing policy has devastated many African American families and communities, sending mothers and fathers away to prison to serve long sentences for minor drug crimes. This federal law breaks families apart and disfranchises those with felony convictions, prohibiting them from receiving welfare, food stamps, and public housing.
Although whites and Hispanics form the majority of crack users, over 80% of those convicted of federal crack offenses are black. This becomes even more offensive as blacks comprise only 15% of the country’s drug users, but make up 37% of those arrested for drug violations, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of those sentenced to prison for a drug offense.
Federal authorities have focused their law enforcement efforts on low-level users rather than high-level traffickers. A 2002 U.S. Sentencing Commission report showed that only 15% of cocaine traffickers are classified as high-level, while over 70% of crack defendants such as street dealers or lookouts have merely low-level involvement with drugs. These participants can get the same or harsher sentences as the major dealers of a drug organization.
This has led to some disturbing results:
• African Americans serve almost as much time in prison for a non-violent drug offense at 58.7 months, as whites do for a violent offense at 61.7 months. • Blacks serve substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than whites. In 2003, the average sentence for a crack offense is 123 months, 3.5 years longer than the average sentence of 81 months for a powder offense. • In 2000, approximately 791,600 African American men were in prisons and jails, versus 603,032 African American men enrolled in higher education. • Black defendants more often receive mandatory sentences than white defendants. • One of every 14 African American children has an incarcerated parent, and they are 9 times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than white children.
An Associated Press story wonders if the delicate bones of one of the oldest humans, 3.2-million year old Lucy from Ethiopia, can survive being transported on an United States tour. The fossils of Lucy have only been displayed twice in her native country. The tour is the object of concern for the Ethiopian community here in the U.S.
The article reports conclusions reached by researchers from Spain's national center for research into human evolution. They suggest that Asian populations played a larger role than Africans in colonizing Europe millions of years ago.
Their findings challenge the prevailing "Out of Africa" theory, which holds that modern humans first arose from one point in Africa and fanned out to "conquer" -- as AFP puts it -- the globe. The theory's foundation is two decades of study of mitochondrial DNA. The scientists from Spain looked at tooth fossil records instead.
AFP quotes the scientists' statement:
"In the light of these results, we propose that Asia has played an important role in the colonization of Europe, and that future studies on this issue are obliged to pay serious attention to the 'unknown' continent."
The use of "colonization" in this quote may be telling.
In the European (and American) mind of "majority" cultures, Africa and Asia may remain mysterious and unknown continents never properly acknowledged. Regardless of scientific conclusions, the realpolitik of far-reaching meta-ideaologies are at play. Perhaps, in this case, the quoted conclusion is in ironic resonance with (or reaction to) presence of Moors and Hannibal in European history.
Why suggest that Europeans arose from a distinct and disparate population other than Africans? Precious identity and Eurocentricity are at stake as well as an understanding of Western history and all its implications. And, the psychology and rationales for corporate and national behaviors follow.
Certainly, there will be a lot more discovering and explaining to do.
On the same day my father would have turned 75 years old, I received the following e-mail today forwarded to me by my brother:
I am gathering stories about African American fathers to include in a book I am writing, hence my reaching out to you. What is or was your relationship with your father? What is his story? Who is he as a man? How does/did he show you what a father is?
Reading about our African American fathers today, one would think they don’t exist or they are few and far between. We hear and read….”they are absent and unsupportive parents”. I happen to know many, including my own, who are present and very supportive. I want to hear about your father, or a father you know who does not fit these and other stereotypes that are continuously perpetuated. I am determined to show our fathers who love and have been there for us…the fathers we see everyday…the ones greater society continues to depict as non existent. Help me show what we know; they do exist in the African American community.
Here is what I am asking of you….
Tell me about your father or one that you know. You can share a short anecdote, or a tradition or pastime you share/shared with him or maybe a moment when you stepped back and realized “he was just being a dad”. Tell me when you realized his role as a father helped you develop into the person you are today.
Please feel free to send this e-mail to others who have a story to tell as well.
As I mentioned earlier, my goal is to share these stories in a book I plan to publish in the first step in my quest to change the labels of our African American men.
Please send your responses in Word format to: aafwritingproject (at) ameritech (dot) net .
Include your name and e-mail address.
I will contact you with additional information.
Thanks…let’s change the stereotypes plaguing our African American Fathers by sharing our stories.
I am holding back tears of joy and grief as I write this, reminded of the innumerable ways my father represented the very best of Black manhood/fatherhood and also struck by the daunting realization that with his loss (and my amazing Black grandfathers who predeceased him), the daddy I must look to now is the one who stares back at me in the mirror everyday who loves his two boys every bit as much as my daddy loved his two boys.
The fact that Intel apologized for placing this ad only represents modest intelligence (read: enlightened self-interest). However, the reality is that some group of executives signed off on this ad to begin with. And that's the real story.
Can we dare make any assumptions about the level of diversity (or authority of Coloredfolk) in that room where this ad got the green light?
Hmmm. . . .
Now, let's wait for the anti-apology apologists to decontextualize this ad and put forth: race-obsessed minority groups are too busy complaining to see how the ad agency only sought to honor the innate athleticism of Black men.
In comment threads throughout the blogosphere, I foresee sentiments á la:
"Jeez, you guys are sooo sensitive! Why does everything have to be about race with you people?!"
The New York City public schools system made news recently for embracing the idea of paying students for performance on standardized tests. Actually, it’s Roland Fryer, the young African American professor of economics at Harvard, who has really been the focus of the reports. It is Fryer’s “incentivising” idea that the NYC Department of Education has embraced.
Fryer has experimented in the New York schools before now, when Chancellor Joel Klein invited him to try out his idea in 2004, albeit on a small scale. This time around, however, up to 40 schools will participate—involving 9,000 students—in a pilot phase. The funding for the incentive program will be raised privately, and is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s larger initiative to give cash payments to poorer adults as a way to alter their behaviors and reduce poverty.
Fryer’s particular plan for fourth- and seventh-graders will vary payments to those students depending on performance. Fourth-grade students will receive anywhere from $5 for just taking each of 10 standardized tests administered throughout the school year to $25 for each perfect score. The seventh-grade students will receive from $10 to $50 per test. To top it off, each participating school will receive $5,000.
Similar forms of incentivising certainly exist in other arenas, and even exist on a smaller scale in some educational contexts (e.g., dollars for each book read during the summer), so the details of Fryer’s plan are not altogether unheard of. And its goal of motivating students to learn—or at least to perform better academically—is noble enough. But is this the best way, or any way, to go about accomplishing that goal?
Part of the thinking behind Fryer’s idea seems to be inspired by motivational strategies used on him by his grandmother, some of which involved monetary rewards. While financial incentives may be fine for parents and guardians to employ with their children, to have them become policy in a public educational context is a different animal.
The “achievement gaps” (especially the test score gaps) between white students and Black and Latino students and/or between students with higher socioeconomic status and those with lower SES have been the subject of a great deal of debate and focus of lots of research over the past few decades. Fryer’s own work, in fact, has investigated certain aspects of these gaps. Significant disparities exist between the opportunities and outcomes of white and more affluent students and nonwhite and less affluent ones, so the gaps deserve our best thinking and most sustained effort in order to address them. For these reasons, the fact that Fryer and the New York City Department of Education have set their sights on the disparities is to be applauded.
It is also tempting to sympathize with the spirit of the proposal—paying students to perform on tests that take up much more of the educational landscape than they should, but that can have serious consequences for their individual futures and their schools’ futures. Moreover, given the misuse of standardized testing that is a part of NYC’s testing system—and the city’s policy of using the results of one test to determine whether a 3rd-grader will be retained or promoted, for example, is certainly a misuse of its standardized tests—any mechanism that gives Black and brown students a boost in this highly flawed competition is hard to oppose. If only the potential for harm weren’t so great.
There is a substantial body of research that provides evidence that tangible rewards substantially undermine intrinsic motivation. The findings of this research make it clear that educators should be very careful when using reward-based incentive programs. In fact, programs that reward students based on their performance—the very type of program created by Fryer—seem to have the most profound effect on undermining motivation.
Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers believes that “Roland is an evidence-driven guy rather than prejudice, instinct or tradition…” For his own part, Fryer presents himself as a person who follows evidence wherever it leads him. Yet these claims fly in the face of his actions. If Fryer is so driven by eivdence, then he shouldn’t be ignoring the evidence provided by others regarding tangible rewards. And he is not alone. A few years ago, Chancellor Klein endorsed the 3rd-grade retention policy imposed by Mayor Bloomberg, even though strict retention policies in Chicago and many other school systems had not resulted in increased academic growth for students. For all of their claims to the contrary, it’s not apparent that Fryer, Klein, or Bloomberg are making decisions informed by the most robust evidence available.
The most disturbing aspect of all of this is Fryer’s appointment as the system’s “chief equality officer,” a role in which his primary charge will be to advise Klein on how to improve the academic achievement of Black and Latino students. And this is his first big idea as equality officer?
I’m all for bold experimentation in overcoming the seemingly insurmountable barriers to success in urban public schools. But what about starting with other ideas that we already know are effective: mandating smaller class sizes, especially in the early grades and especially in classrooms with disadvantaged students; avoiding placing the least prepared educators in the most challenging schools; arguing for and creating assessment systems that include local assessments (as the state of Nebraska has done and as the New York Performance Standards Consortium has already developed in 28 schools across the state), which students and teachers are likely to find more meaningful and hence take them more seriously, just to name a few.
Why experiment with kids in schools using methods of questionable effectiveness when many other evidence-based practices already exist?
I wish Brother Fryer well; he has a tough job ahead of him. At the end of his tenure as chief equality officer, however, he can return to his privileged position at Harvard or just about anywhere else and find a bright future awaiting him. I’m much more concerned about the woefully underserved kids in NYC schools he’ll be studying for the next few years. Will his attractive incentives leave them better off than where they are now?