Prosecuting Free Speech

    George Washington, the first president and one of the founding fathers of the United States, once argued that “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led to the slaughter.” Dr. William Long, in his profound essay, “Criminal Syndicalism Laws: Can it Happen Here? It Already Did…,” in which he made it clear that “criminal syndicalism laws” were passed in 34 states during the post-WWI period, and concludes that many of the laws were aimed specifically at the unions that wished to transfer “the means of production and distribution from their present owners to unions of workers for the benefit of workers.” A criminal syndicalist advocated violent change to society. Consequently, there have been many controversial cases in which United States courts have ruled contradictory to the First Amendment guarantee to free speech by prosecuting mere advocacy of violence absent the clear and present threat. There have, however, been countless victories for free speech and America cannot backslide into the same type of censorship deemed unconstitutional in the early 1900s by allowing courts to abridge the rights of citizens to free speech under the guise of “inflammatory language.”
     The first constitutional challenge to the “criminal syndicalism laws,” was the case of Schenck v. United States (1919), in which the first “clear and present danger test” was introduced. it reads as follows, “the test to determine the constitutionality of a statute restricting free speech is whether, under the circumstances, the speech is of such nature as to create a clear and present danger that it may bring about the substantive evils which Congress has a right to prevent.” Schenck had been convicted of conspiracy to violate the Espionage act, conspiracy to use the mail for unmailable material and for illegal use of the mail for mailing leaflets to the homes of many WWI draftees. Schencks’ conviction was sustained, however, the “clear and present danger test” and the later variations of it served to help deem many other cases with similar circumstance unconstitutional.
    One controversial US Supreme Court case, as well as a huge victory for free speech in America, Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), was the case of Clarence Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader in rural Ohio, who was convicted under Ohio’s Criminal Syndicalism statute of “advocat[ing] . . . the duty, necessity, or propriety of crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform” and for “voluntarily assembl[ing] with any society, group, or assemblage of persons formed to teach or advocate the doctrines of criminal syndicalism.” The charge, however, was ruled unconstitutional when Brandenburg went before the US Supreme Court for an appeal, as it was ruled prior that the mere advocacy of violence without the clear and present threat is immune from prosecution. Brandenburg is a perfect example that the speech that is to be protected by the First Amendment will not always be the most pleasant, however, it cannot be lawfully prosecuted for that reason alone, proven by his hate filled rhetoric against blacks, Jews and his threats toward the government. Due to lack of evidence of incitement to action, Brandenburg’s charges were reversed.
    In the case, Noto v. United States (1961), Noto’s conviction under the membership clause of the Smith Act was ruled unconstitutional. The Smith Act makes the acquisition or holding of membership in any organization which advocates the forceful overthrow of the US government a felony. The judge ruled that “the mere abstract teaching . . . of the moral propriety or even moral necessity for a resort to force and violence is not the same as preparing a group for violent action and steeling it to such action. A statute which fails to draw this distinction impermissibly intrudes upon the freedoms guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It sweeps within its condemnation speech which our Constitution has immunized from governmental control.” The Smith Act is a small example of the many ways that the United States has suppressed free speech and expression and the Supreme Court decision ruling it unconstitutional was a huge victory for free speech in America. Americans must always remember the great lengths government has gone to compromise the First Amendment and, in the interest of justice and equally, must not let history repeat itself and another individual be prosecuted for their opinions.
    One ardent supporter of the First Amendment, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, who served in the court for over 36 years, interjected his support for free speech in the case of Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949), as he has on many other similar occasions, stating;

Accordingly, a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest.

Justice Douglas’ speech solidifies the need for the protection of controversial statements by the First Amendment as the “function of free speech” is to “invite dispute,” and without contrasting points of view, there can be no growth nor improvement.
    The health and well-being of this nation depends on it keeping its integrity and staying true to the principles upon which the founding fathers and civil rights leaders built this great nation. Constitution is defined as the fundamental principles upon which a nation is governed and which establish the character of that nation. In order to protect this nation’s integrity and the strength of this nation, courts must protect free speech, an indispensable part of democracy, in order to, at the same time avoid leading with hypocrisy and preserve the character of this nation.

Here I Stand

Here I stand…
Faced with the harsh reality that the justice system has failed me…
As I has failed many souls before me…
Yet few have lived to tell the story…
Here I stand…
Being persecuted, forced into twenty-first century slavery…
And the ones I stand up for won’t have to do a day with me…
But somehow it’s still okay with me…
Might find some GOD in me but you’ll never find a SLAVE in me…
Here I Stand…
A Black Man…
ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME!…

MATT 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawduArrested for Speaking Outst in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

The Rich Heritage of Africa in the West

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The myth of black inferiority has and continues to plague the Americas, resulting in the suppression and denial of the African influence in the Americas prior to Columbus’ trip in 1492. There is overwhelmingly convincing evidence that not only names Africa as the birthplace of modern human beings but also as the birthplace of civilization and of technology far ahead of its time. Civilizations such as the Olmecs, though they have numerous similarities which seem to connect them to Africa, many scholars, primarily latino scholars, have unsuccessfully attempted to discredit the theory that Africans came to the Americas before Colombus, which helps explain the striking similarities between Egyptian culture and Mesoamerican culture. According to Michel N. Laham, M.D. and Richard J. Karam, J.D., in their informative essay, “Did the Pheonicians Discover America?,” claim that evidence shows that there were actually two trips made to the Americas long before Colombia. The first of the two trips was taken circa 600 BC, by the Egyptian Pharoah, Necho with the aid of the sea faring Phoenicians. The second trip took place circa 450 BC by the Carthaginians, however, these voyages have for some reason been excluded for the traditional history books. This, however, comes as no surprise considering the fact that much of the overwhelmingly convincing evidence that ties Native American civilization to Africa are suppressed. Genetic trees were recently produced which prove that the entire human population descends from an African female that the media named ‘Eve’ and geneticists subsequently found that same for the male they named ‘Adam.’ Since the introduction of the ‘Adam and Eve’ genetic trees, they have also been used to determine, in the first exodus, the routes the early Africans took out of Africa.
The Costa Chica region, near the Gulf of Mexico, is the area in Mexico with the highest population of Mexicans with African roots. This is primarily due to the fact that Veracruz, a city in the area, served as a slave port throughout the early colonial period, however, there is sufficient evidence to prove that the African presence preceded the colonization of America by the Europeans. Some evidence introduced by Ivan Van Sertima in his article entitled, “Presence in Early America: Van Setrima’s Address to the Smithsonian,” to support this claim would include: ancient monuments, such as the Olmec Heads (statues with African features), pyramids with kings buried inside as they were in Egypt and dark figurines made to look exactly as some of the mummies were in early Egypt (with arms crossed over chest, fingers spread and ribs outlined) as well as a sculpture of an Olmec women form Xochipali in pre-Christain Mexico, approximately 3000 years old and with African headdress and ear-pendents (41).The Gulf of Mexico, the end-point of the currents that flow from Africa to the Americas, was the coastline upon which Olmec civilization, considered to be the “mother-culture” of America, thrived. Sertima reports that in 1964, the International Congress of Americanists argued “There cannot now be any doubt but that there were visitors from the Old World to the New before 1492.” To support this claim, in 1858 an enormous stone head was discovered and described as having “Africoid” features. Upon further examination, this head was discovered to have seven braids (signifying African headdress). Brian Smith, in his scholarly essay, “African Influence in the Music of Mexico’s Costa Chica Region,” further supports the claim of the suppression of the African influence on Mesoamerican civilization and notes how the European and Indigenous contributions in Native American folk songs are thoroughly celebrated, but the instruments with African influence are not as highly publicized. Of those instruments are the marímbola, the quijada and the tambor de fricción. This serves as just another example of the suppression of the African contribution to Mesoamerican culture and tradition.
Discrimination in Latin America is also widespread and prevalent. John Logan, in his educational research paper, “How Race counts for Hispanic Americans,” places Hispanic people in three categories: Hispanic Hispanics, Black Hispanics and White Hispanics. He reports that Black Africans are significantly more subject to discrimination, especially in major Latin American cities. He also stated that they live in more densely populated neighborhoods with similar conditions to non-Hispanic blacks. According to John Mitchell’s Los Angeles Times article, “Mexico’s Black History is Often Ignored,” Mitchell writes that Mexicans are a “mixed race,” and states “but it’s the mixture of indigenous and European heritage that most Mexicans embrace; the African legacy is overlooked.” This only further solidifies the theory of discrimination and the myth of black inferiority in Latin America.
Black inferiority is a notion so prevalent in America that mulattoes (people of mixed, black and white descent) are looked down upon and in Dr. David Pilgrim’s Ferris State University article, “The Tragic Mulatto Myth,” there are many examples of mulattoes, specifically females, portrayed in the media as unhappy and anxious to have a white lover, which would ultimately lead to their downfall. There are also other instances where a mulatto woman who could pass for white would have her secret exposed and commit suicide, other women were painted as seductresses and mulatto men were portrayed by the media as rapists who had both the “greed and ambition” of the white man combined with the “savagery and barbarism” of the black man. Once again, the myth is black inferiority is enforced and the black condition exacerbated by the media. With such vile conceptions of Africans, the question arises, if African history and Africa’s contributions to society and the world were celebrated, would discrimination and mass incarceration of blacks be so prevalent? The obvious answer yes, however a lot of work still needs to be done in order to correct the wrongs inflicted upon Africans in America and beyond and a lot of effort will be needed to rewrite an accurate representation of the history of mankind.
Chicago advertising legend Tom Burrell, in his book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority, argues that the subliminal promotion of White superiority and black inferiority has been the biggest and most successful marketing campaign in history. (5) Burrell, leading into the first chapter of the book, quotes W.E.B. Du Bois’ statement:
But in the propaganda against the Negro since emancipation in this land, we face one of the most stupendous efforts the world ever saw to discredit human beings, an effort involving universities, history, science, social life and religion. (1)
With black inferiority being so widespread and prevalent in the Americas, it comes as no surprise that one would want to disconnect themselves from their African lineage and would rather their history be considered “home-grown” or indigenous. Burrell can be quoted in the Dawn Turner Trice’s Chicago Tribune article, “Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority”, when he stated “we have to understand that images, symbols and words can be so powerful and ubiquitious that they affect behavior without us knowing it.” This just goes to show the subconscious effect of propaganda on our society and the way people are perceived and prejudged. Burrell, in his book also writes of the low expectations African Americans, due to propaganda have of themselves and other African American and how even the images of successful black figures can serve to support these thought patterns. He writes that successful black figures being put in the spotlight are seen as “exceptions to the rule”, and further accentuates the myth of a post-racial society by creating the illusion that anyone can succeed, Burrell calls this the “paradox of progress.” The common misconception of a post-racial society combined with propagandized images of African-Americans serve to subconsciously preserved the myth of black inferiority and to preserve the subconscious aspect of discrimination and inequality in todays society.
Wilma A Dunaway, in her scholarly article, “The African-American Family in Slavery and Emancipation,” argues that there has been a preposterous notion that slavery was a “paternal institution” that “civilized and Christianized” Africans and that they were somehow better off than many free northern workers due in part to the fact that they were “cared for” by their masters in their non-working hours and old age.  However, much of the research surrounding the institution of slavery in the United States has been conducted by the examination of journals and diaries kept by slave owners and therefore is extremely biased to make the slave owners seem humane and the slaves to seem inferior in order to justify the ridiculous institution of slavery and to downplay the impact that it had and continues to have on people of African descent as well as the shaping of western society. 
The ever-present propaganda campaign of white superiority and black inferiority, since slavery, has succeeded in rewriting history without its African roots and has continued to downplay Africa’s contribution to civilization and to the world as we know it. If Africa was more-so promoted as the birthplace of civilization and the beginning source of all sophisticated culture, the myth of black inferiority would be forced out of society because it would then be evident that we are all connected and ultimately, all African.

The First Amendment Right to Record The Police

According to the United States Constitution, the First Amendment is written as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (U.S. Const. amend. I)

There have been many cases in which video evidence has contradicted an officer’s testimony and either an officer was convicted of wrongdoing or a suspect’s charges have been overturned or dismissed. With this great lack of integrity and accountability of the very ones who are paid to uphold the law, it is imperative, in the interest of justice, that civilians’ right to record police be preserved rather than criminalized.

Gayle Falkenthal, in her Washington Times article, “All Journalism is Citizen Journalism,” reported that in the case, Glik v. Cunniffe, the court ruled that a citizen’s right to film government officials is protected by the First Amendment. Simon Glik, a client of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), was arrested for “illegal wiretapping” after he recorded threeree officers using force to arrest a young man on the Boston Common. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, on August 26, 2011, ruled that “”a private citizen’s right to videotape police officers performing their duties in a public space is ‘unambiguously’ protected by the First Amendment.”

Richard Winton, in his article, “Sheriff’s Department sued over detention of photographers,” made it clear that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department on the behalf of the National Press Photographers Assn. and three photographers who were harassed, detained and illegally searched while legally taking pictures in public places. The senior staff attorney for the ACLU declared that “photography is not a crime” and that for the police  “to single them out for such treatment while they’re pursuing a constitutionally protected activity is doubly wrong.”

Thomas Clouse and Meghann M. Cuniff, in their Spokesman newpaper article, report on one case in which an officer was convicted of wrongdoing after a store’s surveillance tapes told a different story than the officer in question. Spokane Officer, Karl F. Thompson Jr., claimed that Otto Zehm assaulted him in his 2006 encounter in which Zehm was beaten and tased into a coma from which he never recovered. Three years later the FBI launched a federal investigation and the jury, after review of the video evidence in contrast with Thompson’s statement, convicted Thompson of excessive force as well as lying to investigators. This is one case in which video footage has served to ensure that justice was served and that an officer did not completely get away with murder.

Another case in which video evidence has been used to convict an officer was the 2009 shooting of BART (San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit) rider, Oscar Grant by former BART PD Officer Johannes Mehserle. Although many people were outraged with the verdict and the amount of time Mehserle served in custody, it was video evidence from several onlookers’ cell phones that aided the prosecution in the historic involuntary manslaughter conviction. Johannes Mehserle was another case of a cop who almost got away with murder, as well as an officer who’s testimony contradicted the videos of the respective incidents and therefore, yet another reason filming government officials is rightfully protected by the U.S. Constitution’s First Ammendment.

According to the May 27th 2011 press release of the San Francisco Public Defender, Officer Peter Richardson arrested Jesus Inastrilla and claimed that three undercover officers arrested Inastrilla after witnessing him spit a crack rock in his hand and sell it to Guerrero (one of the undercover officers), however, video footage shows that no exchange was made. The charges were dropped after Guerrero claimed that he could not locate the alleged seized drugs in evidence. The same day in San Francisco, 25 other cases were dropped due to lack of evidence, police credibility issues and a string of tapes with contradictory evidence to that of the statements of officers. With this lack of accountability and integrity of sworn SFPD officers, without cameras, there is no way of knowing whether or not an innocent person will be wrongfully convicted, therefore, the protection of civilians with cameras is absolutely necessary in the best interest of justice.

    SF Examiner Staff Writer Brent Begin, in his article “San Francisco police to carry video cameras during arrests” implies that the misconduct of SF Police officers had become so prevalent and the controversy so widespread that SF Police Chief Greg Suhr proposed the idea of equipping SFPD officers with cameras to record their arrests (Specifically in drug cases and cases that require consent or a search warrant). These ideas come in the wake of the aforementioned string of videos. The officers involved in the arrests in question were all removed from plainclothes duty pending further investigation, however, Chief Suhr insists that the officers are innocent until proven guilty. Being an officer of the law requires a person hold themselves to a higher standard, and with their superior officers brushing such violations off in such a way, justice cannot possibly be served.
By exerting such abuses of authority, officers of the law make justice unattainable without the interference of good samaritans and “copwatchers” who record the cops’ often reckless and over the top behavior. Also, as in the cases of Mehserle and Guerrero, the American people cannot trust officers of the law to police themselves and their fellow officers because time and time again they have lied under oath and violated the rights of, and even killed civilians unlawfully and conspired amongst themselves to continue to sweep things under the rug. The right to film officers while performing their duties in a public space is rightfully protected by the First Amendment and in the best interest of justice, law enforcement agencies must immediately cease the criminalization of “copwatchers,” otherwise the United States government will be deemed to be in violation of its own constitution, the fundamental laws which establish the character of a nation.

Bilingual Education as it relates to African-Americans

Bilingualism in schools is an interesting and controversial topic. For Asian and Latino-Americans, they have classes, such as ESL (English as a Second Language), ELL (English Language Learner), and LEP (Limited English Proficiency) classes, yet and still, Dr. Taiwanna D. Anthony and Dr. William A. Kritsonis, in their doctoral forum, “Bilingualism and How it Impacts the African American Child,” note, “Literacy has been on the decline in the African American culture for many years,” and the issue has gone overlooked. One attempt to address the issue was Oakland School Board’s 1996 Ebonics Resolution, in which an attempt was made to implement similar literacy programs for African American students who primarily speak Ebonics at home. The Los Angeles Times reports “The Oakland resolution calls on the district to provide teacher truing in so-called Ebonics, recognize it as distinct from standard English, and help black students who use Ebonics to master standard English.” However, the attempt was highly controversial, primarily due to the fact that many misunderstood the resolution to have meant abandoning Standard English and teaching students only Ebonics. If African Americans are struggling to learn English, they should be given the same liberties as a native Spanish speaker or someone who speaks Mandarin, however, there are many conflicting opinions on this topic from both the African American community and from the government.

Another time there was a similar debate was in 1974, when some legislature was brought forth by Chinese American students from San Francisco with limited English proficiency. The name of the case was Lau v. Nichols, in which according to Wikipedia,
the students claimed that they were not receiving special help in school due to their inability to speak English which they argued they were entitled to under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of its ban on educational discrimination on the basis of national origin (Wikipedia.com).”
Consequentially, ELL classes were developed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an eleven Title Act, enacted July 2, 1964, which outlawed major forms of discrimination against blacks and women. The act ended unequal voter registration requirements and segregation in schools and in “public accommodations” (Wikipedia.com 2).

Dr. Theresa Perry and eminent scholar and author, Lisa D. Delpit, in their book, The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Students, argue in favor of the Oakland resolution to legitimize Ebonics due to the fact that African American students were underachieving and provided the following statistics. 
“Comprising 53 percent of the students enrolled in the only predominantly Black school district in the state of California, African-American children accounted for 80 percent of the school system’s suspensions and 71 percent of students classified as having special needs. Their average grade point average was a D+.” (3)
Sociolinguist from the Department of Linguistics at Stanford University endorses the resolution and actually fought to get a resolution passed by to Linguistic Society of America, legitimizing the language, as he explains in his essay, “The Ebonics Controversy in My Backyard: A Sociolinguist’s experiences and reflections.”

Dr. Geneva Smitherman, Professor and Director of the Africans American Language and Literacy Program at Michigan State University as well as native speaker of the “African American Language,” in her book, Talkin that talk: language, culture, and education in African America, clarifies that “’Ebonics’ was coined by a group of African American scholars, chief among them, clinical psychologist, Robert L. Williams, at a conference, ‘Language and the Urban Child,’ convened in St. Louis, Missouri, in January of 1973 (28).” Ebonics is a combination of “ebony” and “phonics” (“ebony” meaning black and “phonics” for sounds), however, when it comes to defining Ebonics, many contradictory attempts have been made. According to Smitherman, Dr. Robert L. Williams in his 1975 book, Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks. defined the term as the “linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represent the communicative competence of the West African, Caribbean, and United States slave descendant of African origin (Smitherman 28).”

Nevertheless, Washington Post writer, John F. Harris, in his article, “U.S. Bilingual Education Funds Ruled Out for Ebonics Speakers” emphasizes that on December 24th, 1996, less than a week after the controversial Oakland School Board Ebonics Resolution, the Clinton Administration denounced it stating that “Black English” was a form of slang, had no place in the classroom, and that no federal funds allocated to the school district for bilingual education can be used for students who predominantly speak Ebonics. According to the Los Angeles Times, a prominent African American civil rights activist, Jesse Jackson, had a similar opinion of the resolution, stating that “I understand the attempt to reach out to these children, but this is an unacceptable surrender border lining on disgrace… It’s teaching down to our children and it must never happen.” African American legend, author Maya Angelou agreed and refuted the idea stating “the very idea that African American language is a language separate and apart is very threatening, because it can encourager young men and women not to learn standard English (Los Angeles Times).” According to CNN, i the article, “Jackson, Oakland School Board Discuss Ebonics,” teacher, Patricia Jensen argues, “all the attention has been focused on the sections that say … instruction will be imparted in the primary language, that’s where the confusion has come.” She then adds, “if that had been amended or clearly written down, I think this would die down.” Jesse Jackson, however, in that same article, recanted his statement in a December 30th, 1996 interview with CNN claiming “the intent is to teach these children standard American, competitive English, because if they cannot read, they cannot reason.” He then reasons, “Just as you go from Spanish to English, go from improper grammar to English (CNN U.S.).”

Contrary to the initial thoughts of Jesse Jackson, Maya Angelou and the Clinton Administration, York College Honors Program Graduate, Stacey Thomas, in her scholarly article, “Ebonics and the African American Student: Why Ebonics Has a Place in the Classroom,” insists that it is a worthwhile program and documents its success. For this purpose, she confirms Regina Wilder’s Article on the subject, “Ebonics is Working: Three Years Later”, stating that “the article notes that ‘the students have tested above district averages’ in reading and writing skills (Thomas 6).” Thomas also quoted Courtland Millroy’s article, “Nothing’s Funny About Ebonics,” in which she noted “once students see and comprehend the differences between Standard English and Ebonics in terms of structure and syntax, they display a great understanding in Standard English, and as a result, decrease their use of Ebonics, which has transpired in the Oakland School District (6).” Thomas then declares that Oakland School District proved that Ebonics can help African American students learn and communicate in standard English (7).

In spite of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Lau v. Nichols, African Americans continue to be held at a disadvantage when it comes to learning English, partially due to their natural disposition to Ebonics and partially due to the discrimination and the indifference of America’s public school system. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 barred discrimination, specifically of blacks and women in schools and in “public accommodations,” however, blacks have been yet to benefit from Title IV, which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. This is made evident by the fact that in Lau v. Nichols, which was won on these grounds by some 1,800 Chinese-American students with limited English proficiency who claimed that they were not receiving special help to learn English and charged the SFUSD with discrimination. ELL classes were then developed, however, African American students are barred to benefit from such instruction for the reason that their language is not recognized by the American government. This is a disparity, especially with so many African American students being placed in special needs classes, being held back grades and dropping out of school. Ebonics in schools proves successful and by no means should the struggling African American students be denied the help they are entitled to, unless as African Americans, we are entitled to less.

We Don’t Work, Nobody Works! (Written with help of TaLea Monet & Featured in SF BayView Newspaper)

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Bayview Hunters Point has been a “blighted” community for some time; in fact, unemployment has been high since the closure of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in 1976. Many costly attempts have been made to curb the high unemployment rate; however, the organizations set in place have been compromised and serve more as a neutralizer of the restless natives and as yet another obstacle between the people of the neighborhood and the construction companies working in their own backyards and between community-based businesses and the people in charge of awarding contracts.

California’s Health and Safety Code Section 33422.1 reads as follows: “To the greatest extent feasible, contracts for work to be performed in connection with any redevelopment project shall be awarded to business concerns which are located in, or owned in the substantial part by persons residing in the project area.”

Section 33422.3 reads: “To insure training and employment opportunities for lower-income project area residents, the agency may specify in the call for bids for any contract over one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) for work to be performed in connection with any redevelopment project that project area residents, if available, shall be employed for a specified percentage of each craft or type of workmen needed to execute the craft or work.”

B&C Painting and Decorating, a company based in the community for over 20 years, recently bid on a project at Unity Homes Apartments. Despite the fact that the contract was worth approximately $230,000, well over the minimum requiring that contractors from the community receive all feasible aid on contracts that are paid for by tax increment dollars, B&C received no aid nor were they notified why they had not been rightfully awarded the contract.

The Unity Homes contract was instead awarded to a non-union out-of-town contractor – clearly in violation of California law. B&C has been in business in Hunters Point since 1984 and has played a key role in the development and maintenance of numerous residential and commercial complexes in the community, such as Northridge Cooperative Homes and Bayview Plaza.

On Friday, Jan. 13, DeBray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter, Kilo G and Claude Carpenter – along with the rest of the Black Star Coalition and unemployed Bayview residents – marched to the job site, bringing the contractor’s work to a screeching halt by standing unmoved in front of the heavy construction equipment. They demanded that they be given the same opportunity to work the site and would not budge to let the workers continue.

“We don’t work, nobody works” was DeBray’s response when asked what brought about this action. With few options available to remove the group from the site, the contractor made an attempt to involve the authorities, but the only thing they could do was have the parties facilitate a meeting to further discuss the issue at hand. The contractor refused to talk or negotiate.

To show that they meant business, the group made yet another trip to the work site on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Apparently the first shutdown was effective, because this time around the contractors agreed to give Barbara Banks, lifetime resident of Bayview and owner of B&C, a piece of the contract in an attempt to stop the protesting and keep the peace.

The Black Star Coalition vows to remain firm when dealing with the malpractice involved in tax increment financing, a scheme used by redevelopment agencies, which, by the will of the voters, are shutting down as of Feb. 3, 2012. “We’re not going anywhere,” says DeBray. “We’re going to continue to stand rooted and exercise our First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Next stop … West Point!

Indignation

Institutionalized racism is alive and well
That’s why innocent black men, like animals, reside in cells
compared to whites ten times the bail
I hope you all enjoy your time in hell
because you’ll have your turn to be judged as well

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