By Bruce A. Dixon
Feb 10, 2015
Wherever you see angry black people in motion, you'll find Democratic party elements doing their thing, protecting the careers of the elected and unelected members of the black political class from politicians to preachers and prison wardens, misdirecting black rage exclusively toward Republican targets, and pretty much limiting activism to voting, getting out the vote, lobbying Republican-dominated legislatures for what their Democratic colleagues want, and the occasional politely permitted daytime nonviolent march or die-in.
The names of players and played vary from state to state. But change those of cops, preachers, legislators, bill numbers and organizations and the game in Atlanta and Georgia's prison state is pretty much the same, whether it's Pennsylvania or California, Michigan or Florida, New York or Kansas or your state and city.
We've all got these supposedly progressive Democrats, often black ones, and this season's headlines and black public anger being what they are, Atlanta state senator Vincent Fort, a local politician of this type, introduced a package of supposed “criminal justice reform” bills in the state legislature. Moral Monday Georgia, as closely connected to the black wing of the Democratic party as a wrist is to a forearm hailed the proposals and is now preparing for what it calls a “lobby day” this coming Monday in support of them.
Other black Democrats, local members of the black misleadership class like State Rep. Mabel Thomas, known locally as “Able Mabel” fanned out to meetings around the state to stick their fists in the air and hype the supposed reform legislation. Mabel sat in front of one meeting I attended in what folks called “Mumia's chair” haranguing the crowd to join with Moral Monday and mobilize to fight for the proposals.
Here's what's actually IN them.
The first is SB45 http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/45
This is a bill that restricts no-knock warrants to cases where lives might be in danger and evidence is at risk of being destroyed, introduced in the wake of cops dropping a flash bang grenade into a baby's crib. Fine. But the built-in exceptions are big enough to drive a couple mine-resistant armored vehicles containing SWAT teams through per minute. Every petty drug and gambling raid contains the inherent risk of evidence destruction, and no conscientious cop obtaining a warrant would fail to inform the signing judge that there might be weapons present on the premises.
There's a term of art for the foolish notion that all we need do is to "reform" the so-called criminal justice apparatus by adding the proper training, rules and procedures necessary to purge it of racial bias. That term is "proceduralism." Proceduralism never questions the fundamental role of police in enforcing the established order, or the role of prisons and jails in society. But questioning the roles and the purpose of police and prisons is exactly what we must do to turn the situation around.
SB45 is a reaction to a particular incident. Having to react to the Police Atrocity of the Month is something we cannot avoid. But movements are not built, crowds are not inspired with demands to open and close loopholes and reform procedures. Movements are built around ambitious, easy to explain demands, like the abolition of most SWAT teams and a ban on their use for many types of search warrants, gambling raids and operations for which they are currently used. That would be a substantial and life-saving reform.
The second is SB46 http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/46
This is a bill that would require lots of cops, those involved in traffic and patrol and executing warrants, if I read it correctly, to wear body cameras. But cop murders of civilians are caught all the time on video. Eric Garner's was. So was John Crawford's in Ohio. Atlanta is already moving to get body cams without the state telling it to, as are Los Angeles and most large cities. This is why Obama's release of a few hundred million for this purpose was a kind of no-brainer.
The famously brutal Oakland CA PD has had body cameras since 2010, and dozens of officers have been suspended and disciplined for turning them off at convenient times. Seattle cops staged a hackathon in which they invited software geeks to show them how to selectively redact footage from the body cameras.
SB46 of course contains no restrictions that would keep police from preserving body cam footage indefinitely, or from matching historical or real-time footage to advanced facial recognition software and the so-called "gang databases" that departments all over the country maintain. But then safeguarding the rights of black youth has never been a strong point of the current black misleadership class.
The third bill introduced by Sen. Fort and endorsed by Moral Monday as breakthrough stuff worth of a lobby day and demonstration at the capital next Monday was SB47. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/47
This one lengthens the jail sentences for hate crimes. Seriously... what the hell has lengthening the sentences for hate crimes got to do with restraining terrorism on the part of the police? Hate crimes legislation is a throwback to the days when white mob and vigilante violence was a much more prevalent threat to black people than official violence by the cops. It harks back to the thirties, forties, the heyday of my parents and grandparents when our folks tried without success for two or three generations to get anti-lynching laws passed. At best, hate crimes legislation is the backup third or fourth best solution to the problems of our grandparents, not something that addresses the current situation.
At worst, hate crimes legislation is something that can be used against us, or whoever is engaging in unpopular speech that a prosecutor might claim provokes "violence" against persons or property. The Fraternal Order of Police is already active in DC claiming that assaults on cops are "hate crimes", and the Obama administration has pledged to actively consider this ugly proposition.
When black politicians introduce stuff like this and call it their “Criminal Justice Reform” package they have to be laughing at the activist types dumb enough to follow their lead.
It gets worse. There's SB48, also introduced by Senator Vince Fort, cheered on by Moral Monday and Able Mabel. http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20152016/SB/48
SB 48 is designed to erect additional obstacles to the restoration of gun rights to those convicted of violent felonies. Bear in mind please, that even those convicted of non-violent felonies like passing bad checks and shoplifting are not only already barred from possessing weapons in Georgia, but that these bans encompass their entire households.
Gun rights in the United States are white rights. If someone has served their time, completed all probations, paroles, paid all fines and jumped through the already numerous hoops, what is really the problem here. Also many former felons live in households with parents and others who in order to comply with these laws must renounce their own gun rights and remove all firearms from their homes. If black Democrat politicians really think the answer to violence against black people by the state is to disarm black families they should have the guts to say so. Or maybe this bill is their way of doing just that. So we know what the black political class wants. But is this what most of the activists in motion support.
SB49 is a bill to repeal "Stand Your Ground" in GA, and SB50 requires appointment of a special prosecutor in cases where cops are charged with felonies or in domestic violence cases.
Sure, stand your ground ought to be repealed, and special prosecutors might do a better job than the same old ones who work with the cops every other day of the week. But everybody knows that right now all the Republicans and many of the Democrats in GA are not on board, so neither of these measures have a chance of getting to the floor for a vote, much less of passing.
If black and progressive legislators supposedly on our side want to swing for the fences and introduce bills they know they cannot pass, they could really use a lot more imagination than this. And if they were really OUR allies we could BE their imagination and direct them to come up with (or get someone else to draw up model bills for introduction)
- bills that would restore the voting rights of all persons in prisons and jails,
- bills that would ban the lifelong discrimination against the convicted,
- bills that would open up the system of inmate grievances and disciplinary citiations to public scrutiny,
- bills that would cap the amounts the families of prisoners pay for phone calls,
- bills that would ban the use of confiscated funds and assets by police departments statewide or sharing the proceeds of confiscations under federal laws,
- bills that would mandate adequate food, health care and education for those in prisons and jails
- bills that would unconditionally ban the imprisonment of juveniles with adults (GA locks up kids as young as 14 in adult institutions)
- bills that would ban local departments from accepting federal funds based upon the number of small scale drug arrests they make
- bills that would put the private probation industry out of business in Georgia
- bills that would ban local police departments from using state or local funds to buy or refit military equipment
- bills that would decriminalize personal drug use, homelessness, sex work, and mental illness and take cops out of enforcing laws against these things to reduce the number of fatal cop-civilian encounters.
In the spirit of full disclosure, all these positions are explicitly endorsed by the Georgia Green Party, of which I am co-chair. But thanks in part to the opposition of black Democrats, we can't get on the ballot. This could change, if Democrats got behind another bill in the legislature, HB 59, which will lower the numbers of petition signatures third party candidates need to get on the ballot from their current impossibly high levels to some still high, but less excessive numbers. But so far, our “progressive Democrats” have been silent on this measure, perhaps fearing competition from their left for the black vote.
Still, introducing, pushing and publicizing and mobilizing around proposed legislation like this should be the test by which we judge public officials and members of the black political class, not their willingness to wear African garb, throw their fists in the air, or speak “from Mumia's chair” as some demagogic politicians are wont to do. If so-called progressive Democrats cannot do these things, they are not allies they are careerists. if Moral Monday in Georgia or anywhere else cannot stand up for these kinds of bills, they are NOT allies, they are diversions and sheepdogs trying to guide us back into the Democratic fold, and prolong the careers of your local and national black political class.
Again, change the names of players and played, and the numbers of legislative bills and you can see the same forces reading from the same script in your own city and town.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and based in Marietta GA. He's co-chair of the GA Green Party.