aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Obama on Genarlow. Again.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama says the jailing of a young Georgia man for ten years for having consensual sex with another teenager is an “injustice.” when White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was pardoned from his prison sentence.
Speaking tonight at an awards banquet for the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Obama compared the penalty given Genarlow Wilson and that handed Libby.
He says it is an injustice when Wilson is handed a 10-year prison sentence for having sex at age 17 with a 15-year-old, and Libby is pardoned after being convicted for lying and obstructing the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Blacks get screwed. It’s time we build a screwdriver.
The WaPo reports on a case in Jena, LA, in which a schoolyard brawl between whites and blacks led the district attorney to charge six black teenagers with attempted murder for beating up a white teenager who suffered no life-threatening injuries:
Mychal Bell, the first of the six to be tried, is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He was convicted in July by an all-white jury on reduced charges of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit it. Like his co-defendants—Robert Bailey, Carwin Jones, Bryant Purvis, Theodore Shaw and Jesse Beard—Bell had no prior criminal record.
He faces up to 22 years in prison… District Attorney Reed Walters said in December that his decision to prosecute the black teenagers to the full extent of the law had nothing to do with race. He would not comment further on the case while it is pending. But black residents in Jena said issues of race permeate their town, 230 miles northwest of New Orleans.
Civil rights advocates say the issues are much larger than Jena. Zealous prosecutions of black youngsters are multiplying across the nation, they say. They cite three highly visible cases in which white prosecutors won prison sentences of up to 10 years against black teenagers, only to have those sentences voided on appeal.
In Douglas County, Ga., Genarlow Wilson was convicted of molestation and sentenced to 10 years for engaging in consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. He served more than two years before a judge voided the sentence, but Wilson, now 21, remains in prison while the state appeals.
Also in Georgia, the state Supreme Court threw out the conviction of Marcus Dixon, 19, who was serving a 10-year prison sentence for having sex with an underage white girl in 2003.
In Paris, Tex., a special conservator ordered the release of Shaquanda Cotton, 16, who was serving up to seven years for shoving a white teacher’s aide in 2005. Months earlier, the same white judge had given probation to a 14-year-old white girl who burned down her family’s home.
“We are seeing two systems of justice: one system of justice for white folks and one system of justice for black folks,” said Jordan Flaherty, an editor who is following the Louisiana case for Left Turn magazine, an liberal activist publication based in New York.
I believe in subliminal racism. I am persuaded beyond all reasonable doubt that there is malicious prosecution. Toss race into it and who can be surprised at the cases highlighted by the Post? And let’s be clear, Race is not a southern problem. It is an American problem; an American problem that Democrats should take on.
The South gets beat up about the Civil War but some historians argue that the war was begun as a nationalist war for unity and was, not unlike our war in Iraq, recast by Lincoln after it was underway as a moral war on slavery. Recast or no, Harry S. Stout, Professor of History, Religion, and American Studies and the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Christianity at Yale Divinity School, suggests the Civil War was neither moral nor just [see University Channel podcast Baptized in Blood: Moral Reflections on the American Civil War at 24 minutes].
But the most fascinating piece of his particular argument comes when he moves from moral conduct to religious legacy. Stout says that a “fully functional, truly national, American civic religion” was born then, and Lincoln was its martyred Messiah. The war was ”the defining phenomenon in American history” and “patriotism itself became sacrilized.” And the most tragic consequence of all of it was how, in order for that national civic religion to succeed from north to south and sea to shining sea, the anti-slavery abolitionist goal was abandoned [@ 46 min]:
Tragically, America’s civil religion would not include the very freedman so many thousands died to liberate. And here in the presence of ongoing racism we come to the ultimate moral failure of the [Civil War], South and North. Historian David Blight in his widely acclaimed book Race and Reunion marks this as the central tragedy of the Civil War, “The sectional reunion after so horrible a civil war was a political triumph by the late 19th century as white northerners and southerners reconciled, but it could not have been achieved without the resubjigation of many of those people whom the war had freed from centuries of bondage. This is the tragedy lingering on the margins and infesting the heart of American history.”
The greatest American denial is that this racial subjugation has ended. It has not. It has spread north and west as part of that civic religion and is made manifest in the way we fund our public schools, populate our prisons and have failed to successfully address persistent urban poverty. We spend a lot of time in denial. And I tend to pick on conservative denial - they deny global warming, deny that we’ve bungled Iraq, deny that some of us are born gay, and they deny racism - but liberals do it too.
The example I pick on with Democrats is a tendency to pin racism on the South as exemplified by my personal experience when I told NYC friends I’d be moving here and, more recently, by much of the discussion around Thomas Schaller’s Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South. Schaller argues - on page 18 - that we should turn Southern racism into a “burdensome stone to hang around the Republicans’ neck.” How does that help one bit in addressing the serious problem of race in America?
I argue that race here is different in kind, not substance, and urge big “D” Democrats to stop looking South and do something about race in America. I care about war and healthcare and LGBT rights and all the rest, but the central moral failing and the deepest open wound we have in this country is that we have failed to address our racist legacy. I find some hope in Barack Obama who, among his many other achievements, led the effort in Illinois to pass legislation that would require police interrogations and confessions from suspects to be videotaped.
Still, we need a reimagined, reinvigorated civil rights movement, we need it now, and the Democrats should lead it. What it would look like I can’t tell you, but the place I’d begin to frame the issue came in this Bill Moyers’ Journal interview with Melissa Harris-Lacewell. Here she explains that you can’t use a hammer on a screw:
“What I’m suggesting is we are experiencing a new form of racial inequality. We could think of Jim Crow as a nail. And the protest against Jim Crow were a hammer. And a hammer is an extremely effective tool when you’re dealing with a nail. Contemporary racial inequality is structural. It’s undercover. It is connected with also with sort of black achievement which is also going on at the same time. Contemporary racial inequality is a screw, and if you take a hammer and start pounding on a screw, you just end up with a mess which means we have to live with the fact that a new generation is going to have to innovate a screwdriver to deal with the new problem. And that screwdriver might not look anything like the hammer. And we can’t keep yelling at them to use a hammer for a new problem.”
It’s time we build a screwdriver.