The National Center for Civil and Human Rights Celebrates its First Year

AndrewThomasLeeIf the question is can we, all of us, play a role in promoting peace, understanding and justice in America and around the world- in Baltimore, Atlanta, Nigeria and Nepal then the answer is yes and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights offers lessons and spaces for dialogue and debate about what we can all do to make this a better world. Tonight, the Center will celebrate the contributions of five human rights advocates – each having taken a stand and made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people. The include:

Estela Barnes de Carlotto, an Argentine human rights activist and leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo. She is one of the human rights icons whose portrait, painted by Atlanta fine artist Ross Rossin, is featured in The Center’s Defenders exhibit. Senora Carlotto dedicated her life to reuniting more than 100 missing children with their families. After a 34-year search, she found her own grandson in 2014.

Vernon Jordan, the NCCHR Chairman Emeritus, a well-known business executive and civil rights activist.

Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, is a human rights activist, writer and currently the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

Ada Lee and Pete Correll are well-known Atlanta philanthropists. Pete is chairman of the Grady Hospital Corporation and Atlanta Equity and is chairman emeritus of Georgia Pacific Corporation. Ada Lee Correll , a dedicated community volunteer, has led efforts supporting youth development, youth in the arts and access to health care.

The Center is part history and part current events embracing the lessons learned from the Civil Rights Movement in the American South to the current ticker tape reports on human rights violations and challenges facing millions of people worldwide. In his guest column in the Atlanta Business Chronicle below Doug Shipman captures the significance of the moment.

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Loretta Lynch and the Political Power of African American Women

Sometimes the improbable happens.Lynch

In the case of the Presidential nomination and U.S. Senate confirmation of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch it shouldn’t have been improbable given her impressive educational preparation and her extensive legal experience.

The Senate finally voted to confirm Loretta Lynch after five months. The 56-43 vote makes her the first African-American female attorney general in the United States.

Lynch comes from a long line of super accomplished women who have served honorably and with distinction in top federal government positions and even more who should have based on their credentials. It just so happens that Lynch is the first African American woman to serve in this position and only the second woman. Somehow women like Janet Reno and Loretta Lynch were passed over for decades.

When Attorney General Lynch’s appointment seemed to languish in the U.S. Senate, women and some men all over the country started asking questions. Some went into action starting with the sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. that was joined by other Greek organizations.

Atlantic magazine’s Theodore Johnson wrote in his recent article, The Political Power of the Black Sorority, “….unlike most other sororities, membership in a black sorority is not simply a college phase, but a lifelong commitment. Alumnae comprise 75 percent of the active membership of these groups. Black sororities do not confine their concerns to college campuses. And their fight for Lynch’s confirmation only represents the surface of over a century’s worth of work.”

Black sororities and fraternities have been active advocates for over a century and with Lynch’s confirmation in limbo they activated their vast network to push for her confirmation. There was no loyal to letters instead it was collective political activism joining together to do the right thing.

Last week all the “action” finally paid off and America can proudly celebrate the crushing of yet another glass box that separates qualified candidates from public service. Unfortunately Georgia Senators voted against Lynch’s confirmation putting them on the wrong side of American history. African Americans represent a large voter constituency in Georgia and 70% of eligible African American women voted in 2012, which represents approximately 10.4 million voters. Their numbers are not likely to be ignored. When African American women put their issue-based advocacy into action they can influence elections in political races, especially when the numbers are small.

Discrimination anywhere is….,,,,”

 

Will Georgia issue a “license to discriminate?”

Governor Nathan Deal says he will sign religious liberty legislation

GACareBy Gary S. Cox

Back in July 2014, in Blogging While Blue I “prophesied” that Senator Josh McKoon was going to once again introduce his “license to discriminate” legislation also known as Preservation of Religious Freedom Act based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. The Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Kyle Wingfield published an editorial from an interview with the good Senator in light of the High Court ruling. Unfortunately, in this case we are dismayed our predications of last summer have come to fruition.

This week, Senate Bill 129 took a “hard right turn” in the Georgia House of Representatives, when the House Judiciary Committee rejected amendments that would have clearly prohibited discrimination against minorities and LGBT Georgians. Now, the “wing nuts” of the Republican Party have shown their cards. Speaker Ralston stated in a recent speech to the Atlanta Press Club that he wanted to understand the “motivation” behind the legislation, “Before we move forward, we have to understand what the impact of this legislation will be on the rule of law in this state. We need to know if this legislation opens the door to unintended consequences of any type, that some may try to exploit.” He went further by stating, “Closing the door to anyone is closing the door to all …”

Well, Mr. Speaker, here it is in black and white, the purpose and motivation behind the religious freedom legislation is to grant some the right to discriminate against the LGBT community. Anyone who has been following the struggle of the LGBT community’s freedom to marry court battles knows, when the Supreme Court decided not to interview in Appeals Court rulings in Alabama, Idaho and other states, the inevitability of same-sex marriage was upon us as a society. The High Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place in states where their state constitutional bans were struck down. Among political savvy court watchers, the money is on the High Court overturning all state constitutional bans against same-sex marriage – and that includes Georgia. Some Georgia conservatives want the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. Some conservatives want the right to refuse service to LGBT couples from wedding cakes to providing medical care to the children of same-sex couples. Simply put, the religious conservative wing of the Republican Party wants to say, “It is against my faith,” and discrimination in Georgia will once again become lawful as an “act of faith.”

Moreover, the unintended consequences that Speaker Ralston fears may be a national boycott against the state of Georgia. Hateful legislation has consequences – take a look at the backlash taking place in Indiana! Within hours of Governor Mike Pence (R) signing the legislation, the NCAA is talking about moving their basketball tournaments. Apple Computers, MailChimp, the mayors of Seattle and San Francisco are all talking about boycotting the state of Indiana. Here in Georgia MailChimp spoke out against Georgia’s RFRA. We could be subject to losing basketball tournaments and even the 2019 Super Bowl. Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal would be wise to look at Indiana before allowing our version of this hateful legislation to become law – it is the Speaker’s worst fears – the law of unintended consequences.

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.

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.

 

 

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.

Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everyday by Service to Others

MLKBWB

STATEMENT FROM MANNY DIAZ REGARDING PRESIDENT OBAMA’S ACTION ON CUBA

DiazDiaz is a former mayor, attorney and business leader based in Miami. In addition, 500 plus mayors of large, small and moderate size cities selected him as president of the US Conference of Mayors when I was mayor of Atlanta.

“I am happy for Alan Gross and extend my best wishes to him and his family on this first day of Hanukkah. It is my hope that the end of Mr. Gross’ five-year ordeal will lead to change within Cuba. I am thankful for the intervention of His Holiness Pope Francis and all the diplomats who worked for Mr. Gross’ release. His Holiness also deserves great credit for his courage in furthering talks and relations between the United States and Cuba.

As a Cuban exile whose father was held as a political prisoner by the Cuban regime, I have experienced the oppression of the Cuban government firsthand. However, for more than 50 years we’ve tried it one way.  The time has come for a different approach.

I agree with the White House that the ‘decades of U.S. isolation of Cuba have failed to accomplish our enduring objective of promoting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.I am optimistic that the actions taken by President Obama today will serve to advance the cause for freedom in Cuba.

“Ultimately, we continue to share the common goal of bringing openness, democracy and respect for the human rights of the Cuban people. Today marks a positive step toward that end.”

Manny Diaz,

Former Mayor of the City of Miami and

President of US Conference of Mayors

A national protest for change … but what does change look like?

A start is revamping our grand jury system!

For the second time in a month, a prosecutor has announced a grand jury indictment would not be forthcoming in the death of a U.S. citizen at the hands of image001local law enforcement officers. Regardless of the circumstances of the deaths of African American males Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio, and most notably Michael Brown in Missouri, they were all killed at the hands of their local police. A much needed and overdue national debate is currently underway regarding race, the militarization of our local police departments, community policing and the very definition of “equal justice under the law.” National protests have ranged from Congressional staffers walking off the job with their “hands up” to sadly, violent protests in Ferguson, Berkley, California and Atlanta, Georgia.

President Obama has called for body cameras to be issued to every police officer in America. This is a starting point. But, does it get to the root cause of the current protest – distrust in our judicial system? Attorney General Eric Holder, recently in Atlanta, is grabbing the bull by the horns in his final months in office. The AG is to be commended for calling to an end to racial profiling by police – especially where young African American males are immediately assessed a “threat” by law enforcement. Body cameras, an end to racial profiling, a return to community policing and moving from the post 9-11 bunker mentality by police departments are parts to a whole that need to be addressed. Even here in Georgia, the GBI has indicated they will release police shooting investigative materials as quickly as possible. But, still the answer of how we obtain equal justice for all citizens is not being addressed.

In 1992, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia noted in United States vs. Williams, “… neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.”[1] This means policemen have been traditionally granted a right to defend their actions before a grand jury that you and I, as regular citizens do not have! This is an inherent troubling issue – police officers are allowed to testify in their defense before a grand jury. The officer, like all of us, might naturally portray their actions in the best possible light. Police may cast dispersions on the perceived guilty party in an effort to justify the use of deadly force. To do otherwise could mean possible indictment.

A starting point for public debate to redefine equal justice under the law might include:

1.) Governors empanelling a board of judges, lawyers, law enforcement, district attorneys and lay people to recommend ways to “fix” our grand jury system.

2.) In the interim, when a citizen dies at the hands of a police officer, prosecutors should consider recusing themselves and bringing in an outside special prosecutor, with no ties to local law enforcement or the court system – we already do this with judges. In New York, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has requested Governor Andrew Cuomo to allow the AG’s office play the role of “Special Prosecutor” until their state legislature revamps their grand jury system.

3.) Stop calling officers before the grand jury immediately. Their statements should be videotaped (until body cameras are fully implemented), and submit their recorded statements to the grand jury prior to their testimony.

4.) Congress should give immediate and strong consideration for grand jury reform at the national level. Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) has received criticism for his legislation but he has publicly acknowledged the system needs to be reformed.

5.) We need to rethink police polices of “shoot to kill” and the use of deadly force.

It is time to revamp our justice system to reflect that no citizen no citizen is above the law. The taking of a citizen’s life without due process should be held to the highest level of legal scrutiny no matter the perpetrator.

A Meditation on Ferguson, on America

AJackThis speech was given by today’s contributor Anthony (Tony) Jack a PhD. Candidate and an Associate Doctoral Fellow at Harvard University at a Memorial/Die-In protest in Harvard Yard this month.  For more information on Anthony Jack visit scholar.harvard.edu/anthonyjack

I was asked to speak as a sociologist today, to provide context to the situation that brought us all here today. I’m letting you know that I will fail at this task. I know the stats but I also live the reality. Black men are incarcerated at six times the rate of white men even when controlling for offense, Bruce Western and Michelle Alexander tell us that. But statistics didn’t kill Mike Brown. More black men are stopped under Stop and Frisk in New York than there are black men in some communities, but facts and figures did not kill Eric Garner. Broken windows is a broken strategy, Robert Sampson tells us that. But debunked policies did not kill Trayvon Martin. Police target black and brown bodies like we are in season, like animals for slaughter. There is something fundamentally wrong when mothers must stand over sons and fathers over daughters and utter words that Emmett Till’s mother should never have had to say in the first place: “I have not a minute to hate, I’ll pursue justice for the rest of my life.” I fear that I am not that strong. It hurts watching the news in the morning to see character assassination of an innocent teenager gunned down by trigger happy cops, for if smoking weed makes you a bad person, we need the National Guard at Harvard on 4/20. It hurts to hear protesters be called rioters, thugs, hooligans, and other derogatory terms when somewhere I read about the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. As Dr. King notes, “the greatness of America is the right to protest for rights.” That is what democracy means to me. Yet it hurts to walk around Harvard’s campus and people look at me and fear what I will do to them physically when they really should worry about what I can do to their inflated GPAs.

Black Lives Matter. For some this is a radical concept, but then again, black love always was. To be honest, I am not surprised. This is the land of liberty that reluctantly settled on the 3/5 Compromise. This is the land of justice that needed the 13th Amendment. This is the land of equality that legislated and subsidized white suburbs and dark ghettos, as Malcolm X said, preaching integration yet practicing segregation. I see Black Lives Matter as something much simpler, much more innocent, and shockingly beautiful: a reminder. A reminder that if indeed all lives matter, when 43 Mexican students go missing we should care; when Black, Latina, and Asian women are victims we should all care; when queer-identified people are targeted we should all care; when black and brown bodies are beaten and bruised by those sworn to protect us, we should all care.

What kind of world do we live in when Southern trees still bear strange fruits? The only difference is that now, instead of removing the figurative fruit from branches, we pick them up off the ground after they have been left to fester in the sun for hours. What a world indeed. Faulkner’s words haunt us for the past is surely not yet dead, it is not even past. When I heard Darren Wilson’s testimony I thought I was rereading testimonies from the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. “He was big! He was black!” Bang, bang has now replaced “Let him hang.” There is an anachronistic feel to the whole thing. And that is because we are living with the repercussions of America never really being forced to learn from its past mistakes. Then the question becomes, how do we force America to catch up with the times? Again, as Dr. King reminded us on his last night, “we don’t need any bricks and bottles or any Molotov cocktails.” We must collectively flex the social and political capital that is invested in each one of us. Our president is too slow to act, our Congress and the Senate are too reluctant to act, and our governors fear acting on such issues. But mayors, those urban mechanics and rural draftsman, are invested in local communities in ways that other elected officials are not. Manny Diaz taught me that. They appoint Chiefs of Police and set local policies. We must reach out to mayors to ask them to invest in accountability measures for police officers, to reject military equipment, to create diversity measures so that police and firefighters look like the communities they serve, and to create community programming that removes the boundaries between the blue, the brown, and the black.

I just want to close by sharing that when my godmother was dying, she told us that we better not wear dark colors to her funeral. She said we must wear light colors to celebrate her life. That stuck with. I am wearing white, not to stand apart but to remind us that we are not mourning the death of too many black and brown bodies, we are mourning and protesting the situation that ended their lives. I wear white to celebrate the time they spent with us, although it was cut far too short. So, do me a favor, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the spirit of justice and peace, never forgetting to:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Langton Hughes, Dreams