Monday, March 10, 2008

The More Things Change

The More Things Change ...

The Commission believes there is a grave danger that some communities may resort to the indiscriminate and excessive use of force. The harmful effects of overreaction are
incalculable. The Commission condemns moves to equip police departments with mass
destruction weapons, such as automatic rifles, machine guns and tanks. Weapons which are designed to destroy, not to control, have no place in densely populated urban communities.

I was reading the local black newspaper when an Op-Ed article by syndicated columnist Clarence Page caught my eye. In it he reminded the readers it has been forty years since the landmark 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders report was released. The report known more commonly as the Kerner Commission Report after Illinois Governor Otto Kerner who chaired the commission, created a lot of controversy. The report made the term white racism popular. Prior to that AmeriKKKan whites were in major denial about the thoroughness of their oppression. In fact the term caused so much media attention and heated reaction, most of the contents of the report went unheeded and un-addressed, which may have been deliberate. The Commission's conclusions were quite candid, but the report's focus was slightly out of touch with reality. It said, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal.” Moving? Where were they prior to 1967? Weren't they aware of the reasons the Civil Rights struggle was waged? Were they ignorant of AmeriKKKa's legacy of violence, government sanctioned apartheid and color caste? Just because Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1964 didn't alter the legacy of deplorable social conditions and an oppressive white-Black power dynamic.
Those were turbulent times in AmeriKKKa: the Vietnam War was extremely unpopular and it was ripping the country apart. The Black Power movement was gaining momentum, the anti-war and grass roots counter-culture movements were attracting adherents. To counter this, the US government engaged in a domestic war against its own people using illegal and surreptitious counterinsurgency tactics such as COINTELPRO by the FBI and Operation Chaos by the CIA. Economic conditions for blacks were stifling, police brutality was the norm. Within this milieu the summer of '67 saw a series of riots and outbreaks in several large inner city communities which caused additional discomfort for an already beleaguered President Johnson.
Once the disturbances were quelled and things cooled down, Johnson appointed a blue ribbon commission to study the hows and whys of the riots. Clarance Page pointed out in his Op-Ed piece much has improved since 1968. More people like him are “middle class” and no longer confined to impoverished segregated ghettos. But as Page also pointed out “Forty years later it has become a timeworn cliché to say that we have come a long way, yet have a long way to go. In fact it is more accurate to say that most of us African-Americans have come a long way from 'the ghetto' as Kerner referred to overcrowded low income Black neighborhoods, while too many of our former neighbors have been left behind.” Page, a keenly astute man, underscored the reality of many of our brethren when he remarked in the same piece, “We don't have waves of riots as we did in the 1960s, partly because we have locked up so many people who might cause one.”
He's right AmeriKKKa is the incarceration capital of the world, and has been for quite a while. We lock up more citizens than any other nation on earth; even supposedly less free or more repressive countries! Page also pointed out another fact, “More than one in 100 adults in the United States is in jail or prison, Pew found. That includes one in every nine Black men ages 20 to 34 and one in 100 Black women ages 35- 39 compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.” Did Uncle Sam learn a lesson from the '60's? The US government executed some of the systemic recommendations of the Kerner Commission on a short term basis but only half-heartedly. AmeriKKKa was tested again in April of 1968 when over one hundred US cities lit up like Christmas trees following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In the wake of the riots Johnson, fearing future trouble, scrambled to do something. In addition to social programs which were used to chill out and co-opt many in the Black community, AmeiKKKa became more repressive. In fact under Richard Nixon who won the presidency in 1968 on a “Law and Order” platform, AmeriKKKa did exactly what the Kerner Commission advised them not to do, he militarized the nation's police departments. Under a paranoid and besieged Nixon, the government's Law Enforcement Assistance Programs (LEAP) equipped large and small police departments throughout the country with tanks, advanced weaponry, training with a mindset that perceived citizens, particularly Black and brown people as potential enemy combatants. This has continued to varying degrees under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
To make things seem more just and progressive, more Blacks were allowed to enter into the “mainstream” and promoted. In some cases Blacks actually ran police departments. Virulent police brutality slowed a little. But the ruling elites set out to eliminate potential dissidents another way, by locking them up. Keep in mind the unemployment rate in the black community never went down, pay inequities and discrimination have not disappeared and the educational system is still failing us. In fact some say things are worse now than then. Factory jobs left the core areas in the cities and moved to the suburbs. Most suburbs lacked mass transit accessibility which made it difficult for blacks to follow the jobs. Since then, the government has increasingly taken on a policy of benign neglect with regard to social programs for the inner cities. Now they use the Wars on Crime and Drugs to shuttle Black men to prison to keep the black male population under control via lock down and disenfranchisement.
Forty years after King called for a Poor People's Campaign to push for a righteous redistribution of wealth, honest work and livable wages, which was the cause for his murder, we are seeing wealth redistribution. Only it is being taken from the poor and working class and funneled to the rich. We are seeing evidence gains made by upwardly mobile Blacks in recent years are being wiped out due the fraud and predatory lending practices which are at the root of the subprime lending fiasco. “Subprime borrowers of color will lose between $164 billion and $213 billion for mortgage loans that were taken during the past eight years, according to United for a Fair Economy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. For the past five years, the group has examined the racial wealth divide in this country. UFE is the latest organization to try to put a dollar figure on the loss of wealth as a result of the proliferation of subprime loans. And while some might want to dismiss the findings in the group's report as alarmist, one fact is clearly troubling: Minorities have been hit hardest. Black borrowers will lose between $72 billion and $93 billion, while Latino borrowers will lose between $76 billion and $98 billion, UFE reports.” Black, Latino homeowners hit hard by subprime crisis Tuesday, Feb 12, 2008 - 12:08 AM
So not only are our poor brothers and sistahs catching it, being used as cannon fodder for the prison industrial complex, the strivers who worked hard did the right things and wanted to partake in the “American Dream” were deliberately set up to go down with the sinking economic ship. Try as we might we still keep catching the raw deal. “Of late, much has been made of the buying power of blacks. A study by the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth put black spending at about $845 billion last year. And that spending is projected to top $1.1 trillion by 2012. The center describes this buying power, or disposable income, as the total personal income available for spending on goods and services after taxes. But it's not enough to consider what people will spend. Wealth is created by what you keep and invest or save. It's also created when people own appreciable assets, such as a home.” ibid.
Now those who attempted to gain real wealth are seeing it evaporate before their very eyes. Forty years ago the Kerner Commission said we were, “moving to two societies one black, one white- separate and unequal.” Well they got part of it right, there are definitely two societies, separate and unequal only it's not just about color; now it's also about class, rich and poor- separate and very unequal. The more things change, the more they remains the same.



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