Tennessee lawmakers punish Memphis for removing statue of Confederate and KKK leader

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Tennessee lawmakers punish Memphis for removing statue of Confederate and KKK leader

A few years before Nathan Bedford Forrest became the leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and decades before a statue of him was dedicated in Memphis, the Confederate general overlooked Fort Pillow and planned how he would destroy the beacon for escaped slaves.

Numerous assaults eroded the garrison in April 1864. When the commander declared that he would not surrender, Forrest sent waves of rebels to finish off the dwindling Union troops — many of them black. “The sight of negro soldiers,” a Confederate witness said afterward, “stirred the bosoms of our soldiers with courageous madness.” The Mississippi River was blood red for 200 yards, Forrest later said.

In 1905, a statue of Forrest on horseback was dedicated in a Memphis park, 40 miles south of the site of the battle and later massacre.

On Tuesday, nearly 154 years to the day that his troops obliterated the fort, Forrest’s ghost — and his statue — haunted the Tennessee legislature.

The Republican-dominated House voted to remove $250,000 earmarked for the Memphis bicentennial next year after the city engineered a way to remove that statue in December, along with a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. The amendment was adopted in a $37.5 million spending bill still working its way through state chambers for approval.

“This is one of the most vile, racist acts I’ve seen happen in the legislature,” state Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D), who represents Memphis, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. Parkinson is part of the majority-black population of Memphis.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) blasted the amendment.

“From Scopes Monkey Trial, to 10 Commandments resolution of ’96, & now to punishment of Memphis for removing statues that honor leaders of the Confederacy, the TN House of Representatives sadly continues to embarrass Tennessee across the nation,” Cohen wrote Wednesday on Twitter.

Parkinson was joined by House Democrats and several Republicans in opposition to what they called a punitive measure after the December statue removals. The city skirted laws meant to block removals of memorials on public grounds by selling two parks containing the statues to a new nonprofit called Memphis Greenspace for $1,000 each.

 “They act like Nathan Bedford Forrest is their God,” Parkinson said, referring to proponents of the amendment in the House. “What I see is a vicious, violent individual who made his fortunes out of the human slave trade.”  Read the entire article here.

2 Ministers Are Trying To Revive The Campaign To End Poverty That MLK Started

2 Ministers Are Trying To Revive The Campaign To End Poverty That MLK Started

“The time is now — more than ever — for us to have a Poor People’s Campaign.”

 

He couldn’t stop thinking about them, their wide eyes and the silent hunger that lay behind them.  Staring up at the ceiling from his motel bed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told his closest confidant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, that the impoverished children they visited earlier that day were cemented in his mind.

It was June 1966 and the pair had stopped by an early Head Start facility in Marks, Mississippi, which is the seat of Quitman County, a devastatingly poor area in the alluvial plains of the Mississippi Delta that was thought to be the most impoverished in the country at the time.  Quitman had everything King fought against: A lack of job and home security, particularly for the black sharecropping families who often lived in shacks on the plantations where they worked unpredictable harvests. Abysmal schools, where black students were taught in poorly ventilated classrooms with out-of-date textbooks and school lunches they couldn’t afford.

But it was what King saw in that Head Start facility, a program developed to prepare young children for school, that would push him to launch the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, an effort to demand economic security and an improvement in the quality of life for impoverished Americans. After watching a teacher cut an apple into quarters in order to feed four children, he broke down in tears — an unusual display of public emotion from King. Ultimately, he made the small town of Marks the launching pad for his campaign’s march on Washington, planned for the spring of 1968.

Read the entire article here.

A Return to Debtors’ Prisons

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A return to debtors’ prisons: Jeff Sessions’ war on the poor

One day after President Donald Trump invited Republican lawmakers to the White House to celebrate the historic tax cuts they passed for corporations and wealthy business leaders, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, quietly reinstated a draconian policy that effectively serves as a regressive tax on America’s poorest people.  The Supreme Court has affirmed the unconstitutionality of jailing those too poor to pay debts on three different occasions in the last century, finding that the 14th Amendment prohibits incarceration for non-payment of exorbitant court-imposed fines or fees without an assessment of a person’s ability to pay and alternatives for those who cannot. “Punishing a person for his poverty” is illegal, the Court said. Yet in recent years the modern-day equivalent of debtors’ prisons have returned, as cities have grown to rely on a punishing regime of fines and fees imposed on their own residents as a major stream of revenue.  Read more here and here and here.

RONALD REAGAN AND THE REWRITING OF MARTIN LUTHER KING’S LEGACY

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https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/01/13/archives-president-reagan-designates-martin-luther-king-jr-day-federal-holiday

RONALD REAGAN AND THE REWRITING OF MARTIN LUTHER KING’S LEGACY

It’s become an MLK Day tradition for conservatives to point to King’s speeches on nonviolence and equality as a way to criticize modern black activists. Meanwhile, King’s popular image—transmitted in elementary school lessons for the holiday—has been drained of its radical social critiques and has instead become a generic symbol of equality and kindness to all.

The way Reagan spoke about King’s achievements at the signing ceremony reflected a view of Civil Rights as a movement that long ago had accomplished its goals.

In a 2005 paper for Presidential Studies Quarterly, Denise M. Bostdorff and Steven R. Goldzwig looked at how Ronald Reagan helped create this new image of King.

In the 1960s, King called for “a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged”—something akin to the benefits given to GIs after World War II. He also called for a guaranteed annual income, opposed the Vietnam War, and repeatedly advocated preferential treatment for African-Americans as a response to continuing and historical oppression. But by the time Reagan was elected in 1980, 12 years after King’s death, most politicians recalled his successful fight to end legally sanctioned segregation in the South and not his more radical critiques of American society as a whole.

For his first years in office, Reagan, like most on the American right, opposed a holiday for King. But when public sentiment shifted, he agreed to sign the holiday into law in 1983. The way he spoke about King’s achievements at the signing ceremony reflected a view of Civil Rights as a movement that long ago had accomplished its goals.

Read more here.

REMEMBERING BILLIE HOLIDAY

REMEMBERING BILLIE HOLIDAY

 

Columbia Records/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Billie Holiday, the recording artist fondly known as “Lady Day.” Known as much for her demons as her pioneering jazz vocals, Holiday is a member of both the Grammy and the Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.

In “Lady Day: A Major American Musician and Recording Artist of the Twentieth Century,”Jacqueline Birdsong-Johnson cites Holiday’s voice as nothing short of groundbreaking. “Prior to jazz ensemble recordings with Billie as lead vocalist,” she explains, “jazz artists were only envisioned to be instrumentalists.”

Holiday’s voice, unique phrasings, and fearless innovation changed that. As Holiday’s fame grew, Birdsong-Johnson notes, she used a unique combination of blues and jazz elements to create a new type of vocal—one that had a lasting impact due to over 350 recordings that showcased her vocal style and raised the profile of jazz worldwide.

In contrast, Farah Jasmine Griffin uses Holiday as a lens through which to view the writings of Amiri Baraka, who wrote a series of texts about Holiday as a mysterious, contradictory fellow poet. Griffin cites Holiday as a sort of “artistic ancestor” of Baraka, tracking his responses to Holiday as he moves from mere description to inspiration. “If she is tragic on one side, she is all hipness, flipness, and flirtation on the other,” writes Griffin. “…her individual, personal tragedy is a collective, historical tragedy of black people. Holiday is the figure through which the weight of this collective history is expressed.”

Read more here.    Listen/watch here.

Connecticut’s Education System Is Flawed, But Not Unconstitutional

More to Think About: Education

Supreme Court: Connecticut’s Education System Is Flawed, But Not Unconstitutional

by Christine Stuart    ctnewsjunkie.com

HARTFORD, CT — The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Connecticut’s education system is imperfect, but not unconstitutional.

The decision may signal the end of 12 years of litigation over whether the state has been providing enough funding for its poorest school districts.

In a 4-3 decision in which three of the justices concurred and dissented with parts of the ruling, the majority concluded that it’s not the function of the courts to create educational policy “or to attempt by judicial fiat to eliminate all of the societal deficiencies that continue to frustrate the state’s educational efforts. Rather, the function of the courts is to determine whether the narrow and specific criteria for a minimally adequate educational system under our state constitution have been satisfied.”

The justices, in overturning Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s ruling, wrote that “although the plaintiffs have convincingly demonstrated that in this state there is a gap in educational achievement between the poorest and neediest students and their more fortunate peers, disparities in educational achievement, standing alone, do not constitute proof that our state constitution’s equal protection provisions have been violated. The plaintiffs have not shown that this gap is the result of the state’s unlawful discrimination against poor and needy students in its provision of educational resources as opposed to the complex web of disadvantaging societal conditions over which the schools have no control.”

The Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, which brought the case against then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell and worked for years to get it to trial, was deeply disappointed with the decision.

“CCJEF believes a case of this landmark magnitude should not be left dangling on such a close vote but requires instead the kind of clarity for the future of the State’s educational system that only a new trial and a definitive majority can establish,” James Finley, chief consultant for the group, said.

Finley said the coalition expects to file a motion for reconsideration.

“For over twelve years CCJEF has been battling in the Connecticut courts to ensure that every K-12 public school student in our state has the opportunity to receive their constitutionally guaranteed right to an adequate and equitable education,” Finley said. “Our courts are the backstop to ensure that state constitutional rights are protected when the other two branches of state government fail in their duty to do so.”

However, there are some in the executive and legislative branches of government who would be happy to put this case in the rearview mirror in order to move forward with changes.

“This decision concludes this landmark case regarding education funding,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was once a plaintiff in the case a mayor of Stamford before being elected governor to then become a defendant in the case. “At the same time, the urgency to continue the fight to distribute greater educational dollars where there is the greatest need has not diminished.”

He said no court “can mandate political courage, and it is my hope that current and future policymakers continue to make progress with a more fair distribution of educational aid.”

Senate President Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven, said the court’s decision “reaffirmed that local education funding is firmly in the purview of the General Assembly.”

But the legislature, according to the coalition of plaintiffs, has failed to create a system that provides every student with an adequate education.

“Every child in Connecticut deserves a first class education,” Looney said. “Our job will not be complete until we eliminate the inequities inherent our educational system and ensure that children in every city and every town across Connecticut receive a fair shot at academic success.”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, a Republican from Derby, said the ruling provides an opportunity for the legislature.

“Everyone involved is frustrated that a comprehensive solution to this matter has eluded us,” Klarides said. “Disparities in our schools exist and that is not acceptable. But there is the will to bring the spectrum of stakeholders together and this offers new opportunities to address solutions in a comprehensive manner.”

But some stakeholders aren’t as optimistic about what the ruling means.

“Communities all over the state have already seen the state withdraw from its obligation to fund our public schools,” Connecticut Education Association President Sheila Cohen said. “Rather than protect the quality of education in our communities, this decision allows the governor and the legislature to continue to slash funding to our schools and children. If Connecticut is to be an educational leader now and in the future, it will require that elected officials honor their duty to provide the equitable funding and resources all children deserve.”

Jennifer Alexander, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), seemed to agree, even though her group is often at odds with the teacher’s union.

“Today’s ruling from the State Supreme Court in no way absolves the state from fixing the persistent and alarming problems in our education system that Judge Moukawsher cited in his ruling,” Alexander said. “The status quo is failing far too many kids who are graduating from high school without the knowledge or skills they need to be successful in college or career.”

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, whose city is a member of the CCJEF coalition, said he’s also disappointed in the decision.

“We strongly believe that Judge Moukawsher was right when he ruled that while there may be enough resources overall spent to create an adequate education for all Connecticut public school students, the way in which the state has chosen to distribute these resources is irrational, and unconstitutionally disadvantages students from poor and challenged districts such as Bridgeport,” Ganim said. “How can you say that the state is meeting its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education to Bridgeport’s 22,000 public school students when it only spends $14,000 per pupil, and in better off communities nearly double is spent on every student?”

AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel, whose organization joined the lawsuit 13 years ago, said the decision puts the “responsibility for addressing and resolving the underlying cause of Connecticut’s broken education funding system on our elected leaders.”

She said the court “essentially issued a renewed call to action.”

The question remains whether the legislature has the political will to make the necessary changes to how education is funded.

Women and Mass Incarceration

Women’s mass incarceration gets Whole Pie analysis

by Aleks Kajstura

With 219,000 women locked up in facilities operated by thousands of agencies, getting the big picture is anything but easy. In our new report, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, we use our “whole pie” approach to give the public and policymakers the foundation to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.

pie chart showing the number of women locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in 2017

Our new report details, for the first time, the number of women who are locked up by various correctional systems and why. Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, released jointly by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLUs Campaign for Smart Justice, is a first look at where women fall within our decentralized and overlapping systems of mass incarceration.

 

Governor Malloy signs criminal justice reform bills at Faith Congregational Church

Governor Malloy signs criminal justice reform bills at Faith Congregational Church

Flanked by community leaders, politicians and organizations across the political spectrum, Governor Dannel Malloy signed legislation to reform Connecticut’s criminal justice system on Wednesday at Faith Congregational Church in Hartford.

The governor signed a total of nine bills, which included reforms to the pre-trial bail system, requiring a criminal conviction in order for the state to forfeit an individual’s assets, and allowing barbers and hairdressers to obtain a state license despite having a prior conviction.

The governor was joined by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Hartford mayor Luke Bronin, community leaders and organizations such as the ACLU and the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

“Connecticut has gone from being a laggard in criminal justice reform to really being at the very forefront of criminal justice reform nationally,” Malloy said in his opening remarks.

Malloy said he chose the Faith Congregational Church because he initially announced his push for criminal justice reform at the church in 2015. Malloy said that these reforms, particularly bail reform, were the result of “years of work.”

The bail reform bill will eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenders who are arrested for misdemeanor crimes and who would not face prison time even if convicted. Previously, those who could not afford a cash bail had to wait in jail until their trial, which could sometimes take months.

Malloy cited the state’s declining crime rate and prison population as proof that Connecticut is making progress on crime, but said too many people are stuck in jail simply because they are too poor to make bail. He also pointed out that the issue adversely affects the Hispanic and African-American community.

“The idea of our fellow citizens sitting in jail as a result of their inability to pay a bond was terribly unfair,” Malloy said.

The governor cited one instance in which an individual could not afford a $1 cash bail.

2016 study found that 3,400 people were held in Connecticut jails pending trial in 2015. Of those being held, 690 had a bond below $20,000, the lowest surety bond level allowable in the state. Offenses ranged from sixth-degree larceny to marijuana possession, although some were held for more serious offenses.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the legislation would affect 388 people being held in pre-trial detention. The cost to taxpayers is $120.10 per day for each person, meaning the new law could potentially save Connecticut millions per year.

 

Among those speaking at the ceremonial signing was Yankee Institute director of public policy, Suzanne Bates, who had testified in support of a number of the criminal justice bills, including bail reform.

“To achieve success, people need both freedom and security,” Bates said. “The great news about these bills is they do both. They enhance individual liberty and they do it without compromising public safety.”

Bates added the reforms will also help Connecticut’s fiscal problems. “Over-spending on courts and prisons is unjustifiable from an economic perspective, and at times even counterproductive.”

The bail reform legislation drew the ire of bail bondsmen from across the state whose industry is affected by the change. The Bail Association of Connecticut testified against the bill claiming it was unnecessary and would potentially let those with multiple offenses back on the street.

The bail reform bill received support from both political parties and garnered the large majority of votes in both the House and Senate.

Malloy concluded by saying “we are a better, safer, fairer Connecticut today than we have been in a long, long time and perhaps at any time in our history.”

 

Environmental Racism Is the New Jim Crow

 7 videos   Video by The Atlantic

African Americans face disproportionate rates of lead poisoning, asthma, and environmental harm. Staff writer Vann R. Newkirk II argues that discrimination in public planning is to blame. “Pollution and the risk of disaster are assigned to black and brown communities through generations of discrimination and political neglect,” says Newkirk II. The environment is a system controlled and designed by people—“and people can be racist.”

Watch the videos here.