Spring Madness in Charlottesville

mj78432March Madness is the common reference to the NCAA basketball post season. But the madness in Charlottesville, Virginia is another kind of spring madness. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agents arrested third-year University of Virginia student Martese Johnson after being denied entry into a bar near the campus. Johnson was beaten by agents and later required 10 stitches from the attack, which was caught on a cell phone from a witness. In the interest of full disclosure I am the parent of a UVA alum.

Police violence seems to be more common than any of us really understood or realized. The case in Charlottesville strikes too close to home for every college student of color. Is it possible that an officer of the law can bludgeon a student because “because a determination was made” to arrest him apparently without reason. What words or actions would justify this kind of treatment? It shouldn’t matter that Johnson is majoring in Italian and media studies and holds several leadership positions in campus organizations and has no criminal record.

Did the ABC officers miss or flunk the part of their training that included mediation, negotiation, and deescalating tense situations? These are ABC officers near a college campus, where there is likely to be alcohol, so what kind of alcohol arrest warrants this level of violence? I can’t accept the notion that police and security do a better job of keeping the peace by resorting to violence. Somehow everyone including law enforcement agencies have to come to grips with the unbridled use of violence. As a young college student I listened to the radicals in the civil rights movement as much as I listened to the nonviolent principled leaders. I grew to believe the use of violence would cause even more violence. We have little hope of a civil society if chiefs of police, sheriffs and other law enforcement commanders don’t get their troops properly trained and motivated to keep the peace without uusing or threatening violence. It is time for the leadership of law enforcement to take responsibility for enforcing the law without causing reckless harm to those they pledge to protect and to do so without targeting for violence and abuse African American and Latino men. The balance between enforcing the law, using common sense and protecting the public may be difficult in some circumstance but it is possible. The officers and the public they pledge to protect must be safe. It is not too much for the public to expect for law enforcement leaders in every city, town or village to take responsibility for eliminating police violence and police abuse of power.

Policing for profit … citizens as “cash cows

Injustice prevails when citizens are treated as a financial resource

usa-ferguson-brown-shooting-protest

By: Gary S. Cox

Any American who keeps up with the daily news has now heard about the alarming U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department and local municipal court system. The DOJ findings noted both are riddled with systemic racism in practice and attitude. The report gave multiple examples to back up these assertions. The statistics were astounding; in a city of 21,000 residents, where the population is 67% African American, black residents comprised 93% of those arrested in the report period covering 2012 – 2014. There is simply no other way to put it other than the black community in Ferguson is viewed by city officials as a financial resource rather than as tax paying residents in need of protection. As a white male American, my jaw dropped in disbelief! I immediately understood the shooting of Michael Brown was but the match that lit the powder keg of pent up frustration with an abusive criminal justice system in Ferguson.

In a direct quote from the DOJ report, “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue than by public safety needs.” The black community in Ferguson is treated as a cash cow to replenish the City’s coffers. Police officers are used as tax collectors. These two facts set up an immediate inherent conflict.  When we treat citizens as financial resources, common sense tells you civil rights and treating citizens with courtesy and respect fall by the wayside.

It is not enough to say the quick “take away” of the DOJ report is the Ferguson Police Department and Municipal courts are racist. Such an assessment would oversimplify what is a complex situation. We as nation have to ask questions about police “culture” and practices that allow the police and the courts to be more concerned about city budgetary needs over public safety.  In part, it is a leadership issue.Ferguson serves as an example of where money is the primary motivator of policing activity public trust in the criminal justice system as a whole is completely eroded.

The debate is already underway in the media and on social media as to whether or not the DOJ report is indicative of systemic racism in Ferguson or it is a city that systematically abuses it policing powers.  Academics criticize the report saying the report’s use of a disparate impact analysis is flawed. The comparison should not be of: percent of black residents to the number of police incidents but rather the number of crimes committed by blacks vs. the percent of overall population. However, when city officials view a subset of residents “… less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue” any methodology fails to capture root cause of the tension and unrest in Ferguson.  Regardless of either argument, what the DOJ report speaks loudly to without directly saying it, is when we move from community policing to policing for profit, we have a city structure that is predatory by its very nature. Policing for profit treats citizens as “prey” to vigorously enforce municipal ordinances to enhance the largess of the City’s coffers. Policing anywhere in the United States should not be a revenue enhancement activity.

Now, as concerned Americans we should question whether or not the DOJ findings are limited to Ferguson? Police departments and city officials all across America should ask, “Are we too Ferguson?” The DOJ report is an argument for a national self-examination of our policing practices. The need to return to community policing where residents of a neighborhood know the officer on duty at any given time of the day or night should be the first order of business!

Read the DOJ Report for yourself here.

House Bill 244 Will Help Protect Georgia’s Children

If you are in Georgia and care about children, your own or others there is work to do now as advocates to House Bill 244. As nearly everyone agrees children are God’s gift. HB244 will protect more Georgia children.

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Thank you for calling and emailing your representatives about HB 244. Your voices were heard, and the bill was presented to the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee on Monday, March 2nd. We are disappointed to share with you that the adult entertainment fee was removed from the bill.

Please meet us tomorrow, March 5th at 9am on the main steps of the Capitol as we urge the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee to vote on HB 244 at the next committee hearing. We will provide you with talking points to share with the committee members. We need you to stand with us!

HB 244 contains several important pieces, including:
Extends the statute of limitations for the victims of domestic minor sex trafficking to file civil actions against their traffickers to age 25
Establishes a Sexually Exploited Children Fund Commission
Expands forfeiture and seizure laws related to sex trafficking and related offenses–allowing any proceeds from trafficking, and the vehicles operated by a person who is guilty of trafficking, to be subject to forfeiture to the state
Amends the State Sexual Offender Registry to now include convicted offenders of trafficking a person for sexual servitude
Requires the development of a statewide plan for the coordinated delivery of services to sexually exploited and trafficked children

Why do we need HB 244?

Last week, complaints about a woman pimping out her stepdaughter led to a sting in Johns Creek that led to 15 arrests. One of the men arrested is accused of agreeing to pay for sex but he allegedly wanted it to be with a minor, according to a police report. Incidents like these illustrate the importance of amending the State Sexual Offender Registry to include convicted traffickers.

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http://www.youth-spark.org

 

Shame on Rudy Giuliani!

the observer photo credit

the observer photo credit

President Obama’s former advisor, David Axelrod, who is on a book promotion tour, has rebuked the anti American Obama sentiments strewn about by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“I don’t know anybody who has … a deeper feeling about this country than the president. And I don’t know anybody who’s expressed it more eloquently over a long period of time. So I really wrote it off to, frankly, a fading politician trying to light himself on fire and make himself relevant,” says Axelrod of Giuliani’s comments.

Giuliani not surprisingly is backing off the exact verbiage he used but this is what he said, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Challenging the patriotism of the president of the United States seems rather extreme when you think about President Obama’s road to the White House. Giuliani can clarify his intent but the resounding words from our nation’s mall during the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama still ring more loudly and more profoundly to me rather than the clanging noise of his critics. I can’t think of a more modern day president who more aptly exemplifies the meaning of America than Obama. His policies and his politics may be fair game for debate but his citizenship and commitment to country should be off limits to even his harshest detractors. His words are the ones I prefer to remember when I think of America.

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept, but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship. This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”

Shame on Rudy Giuliani! He seems to speak before he thinks or at least before he considers the consequences. These are lessons learned early in life and ones that shouldn’t be forgotten no matter how successful you are.

 

 

Georgia Voter Access Under Attack…Again

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution Political Insider column earlier this month proclaimed “Bill would shorten early voting period”.  Yes, Republicans in the Georgia legislature are trying to reduce access to the polls by reducing the early voting period for Georgians once again.  They want to reduce the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks.

The success of Georgia’s first early voting period during the 2008 presidential election was hailed huge success by progressives.  Voter turnout reached its peak and almost 50% of voters exercised their right to vote before Election Day. That early voting period was six weeks.  In 2010, early voting was successful again and over 30% of voters participated.

Georgia Republicans took notice. Even though Georgia remained solidly red, the increase in voter participation concerned some. After the 2010 midterm election, the early voting period was shortened from six weeks to three weeks.  According to media coverage at the time, most voters voted early in the last three weeks and the cost to keep polls open for an additional three weeks did not make sense to a majority of legislators.

Reading between the lines, some in the Georgia Republican Party seem to be scared of increased voter participation. Georgia’s minority and young adult population, who are polled as less likely republican voters, are growing and the more chances they get to vote, the less likely Georgia will remain Republican-controlled.

However, Democrats believe that the more voters that vote, the better chance Democrats have to defeat Republicans in Georgia.

It comes down to policy. Trickle-down economic policy, divisive religious liberty bills, and no taxes at any cost won’t appeal to the majority of future Georgia voters.  Restricting the electorate is one way to keep control and it appears Georgia Republicans are willing to do whatever it takes, under the guise of efficiently, to keep control.

Republican Brian Kemp, the Georgia Secretary of State, and person responsible for administering elections in Georgia warned his colleagues about restricting access to the polls last November when questioned about the Sunday voting.  According to Kemp, voters should be given every opportunity to vote and anything done to prevent that could backfire.

Further evidence that Georgia Republicans are playing politics with voting access appeared in the AJC last week. The AJC reporters leaked speculated that the reason the early voting proposal hasn’t been taken up by the Georgia House Rules Committee is that House Republicans need House Democrats to pass legislation this cycle. What a shame.

To think that access to the polls is being used as a political football by Georgia Republicans is disgusting. The fact that these same Republicans think Democrats will play ball is even more disturbing.  Let’s hope they are wrong.

Georgia Children Deserve Better

brainheroFor all of those who want a better world, I strongly suggest watching the video in this post.

The video is a collaboration between the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and Interactive Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. The video is an innovative animated look at the crossroad of policy and parenting to support healthy brain development during early childhood.

There is is a straight line and direct relationship between the success of children and the experiences they have early in their lives- as early as the first few minutes. We need to stop the silliness and get on with expanding educational and cultural opportunities for every child starting as young as just a few days and even a few hours old. Georgia should expand early education funding to all 6-week old children and older, wrap around services as needed by every child who is struggling in school and who needs additional medical and mental health. I think every student could graduate from high school if he/she received small group and individual tutoring and counseling and programmatic support. As this video illustrates there is evidence that for many children their behavior or misbehavior indicates some failure by adults in his/her life. Georgia should declare War on the Failure of Children and by doing so almost guarantee the health of the state and its economy for the next five decades. There is more evidence of what works than we admit and far more solutions than we fund.

Join me and Blogging While Blue to put the pressure on the State House, the Gold Dome, City Halls and County Court Houses to make true the American Dream in Georgia for every single child in our midst.

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Georgia Can Be Great

Cali blogThe Atlanta Journal Constitution wrapped up a three part series today about Atlanta maintaining its competitive position is the South. While flying back to Austin last week from Los Angeles, I read the latest Delta Sky Magazine, themed LA Stories. Flipping through the pages I read about what makes Los Angeles special. Delta CEO Richard Anderson reminds the reader “ with more than 10 million residents and six Fortune 500 companies, Los Angeles County is among the world’s 20 largest economies… second only to New York in population (in the US).”

Driving around Los Angeles, visiting the Getty Center and talking with people you get a sense the city and the state are moving in the right direction for everyday people who believe that government cares enough about them to support higher minimum wages, promote small business investments, fund innovation in business. Cheers to Governor Jerry Brown and the other California political superstar, former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown. The state’s success is as much the fruit of their labor and political genius as anyone’s in the last century.

At the very back of the Delta Magazine is an ad touting Georgia’s #1 ranking for business according to CNBC, Site Selection and Area Development. It states “more than forty Fortune 500 companies thrive in Georgia” and implies other businesses could succeed as well. This sounds terrific until you remember other Georgia statistics: high poverty rate, average per capita income, health access, and high school or college graduation rates. Our other southern state neighbors don’t compete well in these categories either.

So what does California have that has made the difference in that state? Let’s start with bold political leadership from Governor Brown (who was Oakland Mayor and California Attorney General) to Willie Brown (whose leadership as Speaker of the California House is legendary) to Congresswoman Maxine Waters (who has served in the House of Representatives for 25 years) to two women Senators – Feinstein and Boxer whose leadership in the Senate is undisputed.

These are political leaders who take the fight to be best in class seriously, who champion sweeping public policy to expand rather than limit access to higher education, jobs, business, healthcare and clean air and water. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, when he was San Francisco mayor led the city to adopt the Health Choices Plan in 2007 to provide San Francisco residents with universal healthcare. Newsom gained national attention when he directed the San Francisco city–county clerk to issue marriage licenses same-sex couples in violation of state law.

Georgia sits, maybe is stuck, in the bottom quartile in the competition for greatness. Too few students graduate high school and too few complete college and post-secondary degree programs. For too many years the state has reduced per capita funding for k- 12 public education. Wages and family income are low. State investment in transit and integrated transportation solutions is minimal. The state has preferred to push regional transit and transportation issues to the local leaders. Economic development funding is minimal.

For instance, every governor for my 40 years in Georgia has proclaimed his support and the importance of robust and successful public education but the results for children haven’t changed much. Some have done more than others to fund and promote a legislative agenda supporting education reform. The HOPE scholarship is an example, though not perfect or fully accessible to the lowest income and most challenged Georgia youth. Even HOPE was adopted by referendum when it could have been established by legislative action with bold state leadership.

The legislators seem to want the credit for the policy but not the challenge to their “no tax” record. Instead of plugging the state budget with a couple hundred million dollars for K- 12 education this session it would be brave, courageous and even sensible for the governor to assess how much is needed to bring every student up to top quartile national test performance. Anything less simply shortchanges Georgia’s children and families and at this rate many of our grandchildren’s children will not live to know Georgia as the best of the best in the world.

Affordable Housing Matters

affordhousingEvery workday morning, thousands of hard working metro Atlantans commute into the center of the city to work. Often, it is to minimum wage jobs. These hard working individuals clean our high-rise office buildings, cook our “to go” meals, take our vital signs when we are sick and often help build the very offices and residences in which we live and work. Many of these individuals struggle from paycheck to pay check to make ends meet. The American dream of home ownership is not a dream for them … it is a fantasy and is simply not obtainable on a limited income. To have a vibrant, diverse city, the least we can do is make affordable housing a major priority in the city of Atlanta.

Community development is one of the biggest roles city governments play in developing vibrant downtowns. Providing affordable housing is and has been the cornerstone of community development.  Yet, according to the Urban Institute, we must go beyond just providing affordable housing to the working poor. We must use the tools of tax breaks, tax allocation districts and other financial incentives to encourage inner city commercial and residential real development. This helps to offset the high cost of inner-city redevelopment. When we do this, in tandem with encouraging business development, we create new job opportunities in the core city, as well as affordable housing opportunities.

Conversely, when developers purchase valuable city assets, especially for Intown residential redevelopment, it is imperative, as a stipulation to the sale and any related financial incentives; they agree to designate a percentage of new construction units as “affordable housing.” Every mayor since Sam Massell has championed the cause of affordable housing. Especially when the developer is acquiring and receiving both a city asset and tax incentives. This was the case for Atlantic Station, Ponce City Market project, the Centennial Park area redevelopment and should be the same for any city owned site. The city can afford to promote affordable housing options for those whom it is an economic necessity.  Affordable rental housing and affordable homes for purchase are essential elements for successful redevelopment of a city with 23% or higher poverty level residents and many working families who live pay check to pay check, Some years ago businessman Ron Terwillger and former Atlanta Housing Authority leader Renee Glover chaired the Affordable Housing Task Force. The report remains in the city’s files. This extensive report pushed the Council and me to offer $35 million in Affordable Housing Opportunity Bonds. Invest Atlanta as the Atlanta Development Authority had the expertise to manage the allocation of funding to qualified projects and the Council authorized funding to cover the bond financing. At the time we explored adopting inclusionary zoning legislation based on successful models from other cities as a mechanism to mandate mixed income housing development only to find limitations in state law. Perhaps it is time to revisit how the state could support inclusionary zoning legislation.

If we are to have a strong city, if we are to use all our assets to promote equitable and diverse community development that serves families and people at every socio economic level then as residents and taxpayers we must support the city’s efforts to do so even when it costs us money as taxpayers. The steady state of income and opportunity inequity for nearly 25% of Atlanta residents must be tackled unapologetically, consistently and holistically over the decades it might take to move the needle.

 

Read about New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans for affordable housing that he highlighted today in his State of the City Address.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/nyc-mayors-speech-focuses-affordable-housing-28692712

 

Is the religious freedom bill fundamentally necessary?

Photo by Patrick Saunders

Photo by Patrick Saunders

Cochran firing really doesn’t muddy the water!

By: Gary S. Cox

In a recent conversation with a friend who by any definition is an “activists” catholic (working within the framework of the Catholic Church to influence change), we discussed whether or not the federal, state, county or city government in anyway prohibited him from practicing his faith? The answer was a resounding “No!”

He feels comfortable wearing ashes on his forehead in public on Ash Wednesday; he participates in, and volunteers to feed the homeless on a weekly basis. My friend, along with me, sits on several service committees for our parish. As a practicing catholic, he doesn’t see the basic tenants of his faith being “challenged” by government, nor do I.

While one example, one friend and one conversation is not evidence government and religion do not clash, we all know on occasion they do. That is what the civil courts are for – to serve as a meditator when the practice of one’s religion and government forces come in conflict with each other. Additionally, the Georgia Constitution, in the first section, under the “Georgia Bill of Rights” is the “freedom of Conscience” clause which grants, “. . . the natural right to worship God, each according to the dictates of one’s own conscience … without interference.” The fact is the right to practice one’s religion is set in stone in the Georgia Constitution. Thus, it seems reasonable this section of the Georgia Bill of Rights is an argument against the need for a Religious Freedom Bill.

Secondly, any reasonable and self-thinking individual can’t help but wonder about the motives of those who are pushing for this legislation? There have been no state-wide hearings to gather examples of cases where individuals could not practice their faith – only committee work. The fears of the LBGTQ community and other minority groups who perceive the legislation as a ruse to allow possible discriminatory practices in the workplace, based on religious beliefs, is a well-founded and legitimate concern.

Then, enter the case of Chief Kelvin Cochran. While not delving into the “messiness” of the case or how it was handled, it is obvious in the press that ex-chief Cochran has become the poster child for the alleged “need” for the proposed legislation. His supporters rally to his aid. Does his case warrant passage of new legislation? NO!

Chief Cochran is claiming he has been discriminated on the basis of his religious beliefs by the city of Atlanta. He has filled an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint, presumably as a prelude to a law suit. But, again, he is utilizing those governmental “remedies” already in place to resolve his differences with the city.

Time will tell if his grievances are justified as the legal process plays out. However, the ex-Chief’s case, his personal circumstances and how he is following up on his rights to assert a discrimination claim are already provided for in both legal structure and case law. His case is not an argument for the need of a Religious Freedom bill but the exact opposite! His case, as it winds its way through the legal system, is proof there is no need for additional legislation for him to have a resolution to his concerns as to whether or not he was fired for his religious beliefs.

 

And I Saw a Bush Rise Up Out of the Sea

Romney Accepts Party Nomination At The Republican National ConventionFrom frequent BWB contributor Charles Cullen

So the walls are coming down, the plane has finally crashed into the mountain, and Jeb Bush is running for President.

Ignoring the fact that this is very, very bad for Democrats, why not turn to the fascinating questions surrounding the viability of his Presidential campaign? To examine this question we must assume that Bush will be successful in the Republican primary.

Since I believe his success is relatively likely, given his donors and connections, I believe the question an interesting one. And certainly one worth asking. Will we, the populace, really elect a third Bush? We’re certainly stupid enough to do so (look at Bush II’s second election).

The looming spectacle of another Bush occupying the West Wing is made even more frightening by the facts that the public likes to switch parties after two terms (probably a healthy instinct, had one of our two major parties not driven right off the sanity-cliff). Bush almost certainly has Florida (root, root, root for the home-team, even if they’re implicated in ethics violations), and he has an ability no Republican challenger has had since Bush I; he seems pretty sane. Also, he may end up being challenged by a woman. If that woman is Hillary Clinton, I’m calling it: game, Bush. The strange national hatred of her has never disappeared. And she will be blamed—by both sides—for everything they didn’t like about Obama’s tenure.

We can’t ignore the fact that any woman, be it Warren, Clinton, you name her, would have a herculean task reaching the mountaintop of the presidency. Obama managed to win despite the disadvantage of not being white, but was assisted in both campaigns. First, it helped that Bush II was a walking disaster, enjoying his second term. Second, McCain offered a helping hand by abandoning his politics, going off the rails, and by choosing a living joke as his running mate. Are you outside your house? Can you see Russia?

palin-wink

As for Obama’s reelection campaign, I believe that the tape of Romney tossing aside the grubby cloak of the average Joe, and showing us his true colors as a sociopathic plutocrat was very helpful, if not essential. We must come to terms with the uncomfortable reality that Obama was elected because he is an exceptional politician, a magnificent orator, and much, much smarter than your average bear…and that he had quite a bit of help from the other side.

They were coming off a two term disaster president (of their own party) and simply couldn’t keep up with Obama. Nor could they stop shooting themselves in the foot, or for that matter old men in the face. If Obama’s tenure tricks us into thinking that black politicians will be treated pretty much the same as white politicians, then we as a Nation must pull our collective heads out of, well, the dark.

Politicians like Obama come along rarely and acknowledging that is essential to the Democratic Party. I suppose what I’m saying is that to vault the gender-gap we’re going to need another exceptional politician, and/or a foaming at the mouth crazy challenger. I’m talking TMZ catches Presidential hopeful eating live chickens crazy.

Ever met someone who thinks racism ended with Obama? Yeah? Well there are at least twice as many who think either that the gender gap has closed or that women are simply incapable of wielding the awesome power of the Presidency.

So what do we do? Do we, as a National Party unwillingly tasked with being the single sane party—the parental figure, if you will—in a two party system, simply take a noble knee and nominate Clinton to show that we’re serious about equality? Do we run Warren to make the same point and still (maybe) win? Is Warren, in fact, a more competitive option in the general election? She certainly isn’t in the primary. But I think we can all agree that primaries alone do not effective candidates make.

I rarely write articles posing questions to which I simply do not know the answer. Usually, I at least think I know the answer; know what’s in the last chapter of the book. Here I do not. What I do know is that the Democrats have been in power through President Obama for eight years. I know the populace likes to switch sides after some time, and I know that switching is the difference in states like Iowa, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin. I know that for a woman to be elected to our highest office, we would need a politician of exceptional talent and character, and we would probably also need her Republican challenger to fumble the ball in the grand tradition of Romney and McCain.

I write this article because these are questions we need to ask ourselves. Will Jeb get out of the primary? Will he maintain his sanity throughout the campaign process? Will we run a woman against him, and if so, who? I’m not suggesting we shy away from our female candidates because we fear sexism. I am asking these questions because a Republican Presidency is not simply a set-back, it is a disaster.