Friday, July 14, 2023

Letter to the Editor in Hartford Courant - Government slow to act, sending it to High Court

State Sen. Rob Sampson and House Republican leader Vincent Candelora are both wrong about the Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action ruling and their belief that these kinds of issues should be decided in the legislature.

When it comes to ensuring the rights of historically marginalized racial and ethnic minorities, elected representative bodies have been notoriously slow to take action if they take any action at all.

It is safe to say that throughout much of our nation’s history, elected officials, especially at the state level, have more likely been the problem rather than the solution when it comes to dealing with racial discrimination and inequality.

Racial and ethnic minorities have turned to state and federal courts precisely because lawmakers — historically, both Democrats and Republicans at all levels of government — have often failed to protect the most basic and fundamental rights guaranteed or belonging to a person by the U.S. Constitution.

The 14th Amendment was introduced in the aftermath of the Civil War to address racial discrimination written into law by state legislators across the South. Despite the High Court’s notorious 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which legitimatized the state-sanctioned racial caste system euphemistically referred to as Jim Crow segregation, since then, the Supreme Court has applied the 14th Amendment in a wide range of rulings to confirm the rights and privileges of citizenship, and guarantee all citizens regardless of their race and ethnicity, equal protection under the law.

If elected representative bodies had acted to address racial discrimination and inequality in the past, there would have been no need for seminal rulings by past Supreme Courts such as United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898), Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and Loving v. Virginia (1968).

This extremely conservative High Court got it wrong in its ruling on affirmative action. America has never been and is still not a color-blind society. Although biological race is pure fiction, race is real in a social sense. That is, racial differences and the meanings we attach to those differences have always and continue to affect life opportunities and outcomes despite what Chief Justice Roberts and the court’s majority claim.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Press Protects Democracy By Making Government Transparent and Accountable To The People

As a member of a historically oppressed group, without a doubt, my favorite Amendments to the U.S. Constitution are the 13th (freed the slaves), 14th (introduced equal protection under the law) and the 15th (guaranteed the right to vote regardless of race). Along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they form the foundation of not only my freedom as a Black man living in a nation shaped since its founding by White Supremacy, but the freedom of all Americans either directly or indirectly.

Close behind those three post-Civil War Amendments and seminal pieces of legislation passed during the century-long Black Freedom struggle, my next favorite is the 1st Amendment: 

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.

The press clause acknowledges the critical role that the press should play in American society. The architects of America’s founding documents clearly understood the importance and public purpose of the press and explicitly protected it in the U.S. Constitution. Former Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, made this point quite clear: “That the First Amendment speaks separately of freedom of speech and freedom of the press is no constitutional accident, but an acknowledgment of the critical role played by the press in American society. The Constitution requires sensitivity to that role, and to the special needs of the press in performing it effectively.”

What the Framers of the Constitution and Justice Stewart understood is that there is no democracy without a free and independent press for everyone. The media today – print, radio, television, and the internet – play an extremely important role in American society. The press helps protect American democracy in many ways, but perhaps its most important protections are making government transparent and holding government officials accountable. What this means then is that the public needs non-government sources of information that they can trust.

Beginning in the 1990s, many newspapers began to lose their profitability, and since then, the newspaper business has been in severe decline. Many newspapers either folded or switched to an internet-only delivery systems to survive. The loss of local media across the country is making government less transparent and leaving many Americans woefully uninformed. School board, city council, and boards and commissions meetings are going uncovered. Overstretched reporters working to meet deadlines have little time to do deep investigative journalism. Newspapers have become thin and publish irregularly.

Giant corporations or hedge funds are stepping in and purchasing an increasing number of struggling newspapers, radio, and television stations. But media consolidation under the control of a few mega conglomerates focused primarily on the profitability of their investments is having a devasting effect on local media and undermining the credibility of the news.

When local media disappears, democracy suffers. There is nothing more important in a democracy than an engaged and knowledgeable citizenry. The press provides citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions. Americans need local media that can report on issues important to the public.

While I believe a well-funded and independent press can provide the public with the kind of information that our democracy needs and depends on, I am not uncritical of the role the press currently plays in shaping our public discourse.

The press, even the so-called “mainstream media,” is not the neutral observer and presenter of facts and events it often claims to be. Unarticulated, often unconscious, underlying ideological assumptions and hidden agendas frequently shape what kinds of issues are covered, the questions asked, and the narrative being told. It is perhaps inevitable, for example, that a reporter’s worldview – the overall perspective from which she sees and interprets the world – may conceal or even justify the centers of power and privileges currently operating in American society.

One recent example jumps out to me.

Classified government documents are turning up everywhere. Hundreds of classified documents were improperly stored by Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Classified documents were found at President Joe Biden’s home and private office from his time as vice-president and senator. Former vice-president Mike Pence had his own stash of classified documents at his home. The news coverage about Trump’s mishandling of government secrets, brazen refusal to hand them over to the National Archive, and now his indictment under the Espionage Act is being extensively covered by the press.

But they are not focusing on an equally critical issue, the problem of growing government secrecy.

Rarely scrutinized by the press is all this government secrecy. No one knows the actual number, but it is estimated that the federal government classifies more than 50 million documents a year. It is impossible to keep track of all of them. Experts estimate that probably five to ten percent warrant that classification.

With all this secrecy, the public does not know what its government is doing. If the media’s job is to help make government more transparent and accountable to the people, rather than see the growing problem of overclassification of documents to protect government secrets as a necessary evil to keep our country safe, reporters should be asking tough questions about why there is so much government secrecy and whether it is really necessary to classify so many documents. But as newspapers crumble and good journalist leave the field, this will be harder and harder to do.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Black Freedom is Freedom for Everyone

The black freedom struggle has entered a more radical phase ever since the murder of George Floyd and the thousands of street-level protests that followed. According to Gaye Theresa Johnson and Alex Lublin, in their edited book, Future of Black Radicalism, “Black radicalism refers to demands and articulations of freedom by Black activists, artists, and intellectuals on behalf of everyone’s freedom.” 

Radical protests by blacks have centered on demands such as paying poverty wage workers a living wage, defunding the police, reinvestments in education, urban infrastructure, black communities, and local economies, guaranteeing access to quality and affordable housing, healthcare for all, environmental justice, and ending food insecurity.


In response to black radicalism, the right has intensified its long-standing opposition to the black freedom struggle through denying the reality of systemic racism and opposing the expansion of social safety net programs such as Obamacare that blacks also happen to disproportionately benefit from. Targeted attacks on black’s voting rights through tactics such as mandating photo ID’s, shortening the days for or the elimination of early voting, and defending felon disenfranchisement flow from the same anti-black playbook.


Republican lawmakers believe that stroking anti-blackness by, for example, linking the progress made by some blacks in the post-civil rights era to the declining social and economic status of working- and middle-class whites is key to rallying white support for their candidates and capturing and maintaining state power. Their broader goal is to paint white Americans as the primary, if not sole, victims of open borders, so-called “reverse racism,” and the decades-long growing trends of social and economic dislocation caused by the out-migration of industries due to globalization, austerity cuts to critical government programs, and neoliberal economic policies embraced by office-holding elites in both political parties.

Republicans embrace racist policies while denying that they will have a racist impact. Tapping into the latent forms of anti-blackness that always bubbles near the surface throughout American society is key to their strategy.


The current fixation on critical race theory and the 1619 Project are two of the most recent examples of how Republicans strategically use anti-blackness to stroke white’s deeper fears of broader demographic and cultural shifts occurring in America. The National Republican Senatorial Committee recently conducted a poll, finding that although it ranks below the economy, taxes, government spending, and energy policy, CRT angers many people in its mostly white base. Although most Republican voters have no idea what CRT is, the party plans to use it to rally support for their candidates during the 2022 midterm election (along with other cultural wedge issues such as the rights of transgender athletes and the so-called attacks on Christianity).


Black radicalism is a threat to the status quo. The reason for this is because the black freedom struggle has always been and continues to be an effort to abolish all forms of oppression, not just that which is experienced by black people. Black radical protests and the demands being made by such groups as Black Lives Matter is the continuation of black’s centuries long challenge to white supremacy and racial capitalism.


Given what’s at stake, the extreme right-ward shift of the Republican Party to counter black’s demands for freedom should come as no surprise. Those who defend white supremacy will continue to organize and assert their political influence and power and so too must those who want to end all forms of oppression.

Black freedom is freedom for everyone.