There might be too many lawyers in the U.S. (who knows) But one thing is clear, there are not too many lawyers of color in the U.S.
I am serious.
This is not an attack on lawyers who are white or of European descent. It is just the facts. There is room for African-American lawyers in the U.S. and we(African-Americans) should encourage and support such a notion.
African-Americans are 13 percent of the United States population. But according to statistics, they comprise only 3 percent of all lawyers, in the United States. This is abysmal.
The number of African-Americans at the large firms in the United States is low as well, something that hasn’t changed in years. Years ago, I did research on the topic and the numbers were horrific.
A lot of factors historically have caused this to happen; African-Americans have had to fight to be able to study at certain law schools and to become members of bar associations are two of the biggest. And relationships at firms lead to jobs.
Yet, at the beginning of this, I said that there is a need for more African-American lawyers and it is true. Why? The current foreclosure crisis where it is clear that African-Americans were targeted by financial institutions with default prone mortgage products is an area of legal practice where African-American lawyers can make a mark. In the coming years as the facts continue to evolve; it is likely that the racial element to the subprime crisis will be revealed. African-American lawyers, as much as they are able, can step in and take on this fight. They can also step in and demand reform in the financial services system.
In addition, while it might seem depressing, African-Americans are disproportionately entangled with the criminal justice system. They could surely use some zealous advocacy in attempting to avoid serious jail time or any jail time at all. Black lawyers understand this (at least some of them).
Moreover, in general, African-Americans are confronting a precarious time on a whole host of issues. Lawyers who understand this reality might be better equipped to assist them with these problems.
So don’t listen to the madness that there are too many lawyers. There might be but not African-Americans and probably not lawyers of color, in general. No offense to anyone, but I just don’t agree with that one. We will explore that notion further in this space.
Back in September 2001, when Al Qaeda bombed America, the unemployment rate in Black America, was 8.6 percent. Today, 10 years later, on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 bombing, the rate is nearly twice that amount at 16.7 percent. It has been the topic of much chatter lately.
I wrote an essay in 2001 in response to the bombing and all the calls afterwards for war. It appeared in the Progressive Magazine and is called “Stand by the Man: Black America and the Dilemma of Patriotism.” I wrote the essay because I wanted to stress the fact that after the brazen attack on the country, Black Americans, like all Americans would be asked to sacrifice for the country, and go to war. Domestic problems had to wait, and I thought that was very disappointing. It is one of the reasons I opposed the war.
Here is an excerpt:
We would be asked to do what we had always done without any promise of future benefit: to prove our unconditional love and loyalty for America. Drop any grievances or problems we have with our American condition for the time being, or maybe for a generation or so.
Today, that sacrifice continues for Black Americans but on different terms. Black Americans are not being asked to wait (like many others) because we are at war but because the country is broke. There can be no more spending by the government to try to get the economy going and create jobs, and besides, the Republicans argue, more spending won’t work anyway because we know better. Of course, they should probably say, we spent all the money on wars and tax breaks so we do know that the country is broke.
Of course, this is just silly politics. Austerity now is the road to disaster. Banks and corporations are making record profits but the people have to starve, rob to eat, especially Black Americans. It makes no sense.
But while this story of Black America’s woes remains beneath the radar on the tenth anniversary of the bombing of America, also beneath the radar is the reaction of many Black Americans to the unemployment rate and what should happen now. Here is what I am reading more and more: lets’ do our own thing. We have a black President and still can’t get some kind of focus on the severe issues in Black America such as unemployment, poor educational opportunities, and rampant discrimination by financial institutions, so be it, time for a new way – our way.
This is, of course, old stuff: Build your own, hire your own. The pursuit of the American Dream, through traditional means, in other words, has stalled, but we have to eat in the meantime.
August Wilson’s 1992 play “Two Trains Running” explains this dilemma. The play is all about a choice between political pressure to assimilate into the so called mainstream or self help in order to develop your own community and autonomous institutions that will uplift your own. The play is set in 1960’s Pittsburgh. The most important moments in the play are the appearances of a mentally ill painter named Hambone who repeatedly says the same thing over and over throughout the play: “I want my ham.”
Hambone painted a white man’s fence for a ham but was given a chicken. He declined the chicken but continues to demand his “ham.” The symbolism is obvious: Hambone is wasting his time and he is wasting away waiting for his just due just like Black Americans. He should be doing for self.
I am hearing more and more of this these days. It goes back to W.E.B. DuBois’ quest for civic equality v. Booker T. Washington’s famous “drop your buckets” mentality. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. picked up the DuBois’ banner for the most part; Malcolm X and the Black Panthers opted for their own version of Washington’s self help. Integration was victorious; it is and has been the dominant political and economic strategy of Black America for the last 50 years.
But, in light of those unemployment numbers, is it time for Wilson’s other train to began to ride?
In a review of the play in 1992 for the New York Times, critic, Frank Rich wrote that the characters in Wilson’s play did not place their “hopes” in “distance leaders sowing dreams of lofty change.” They have faint “fantasies of justice.”
Black Americans are still waiting for Mr.Obama. But they have to ask themselves: do they really want their ham or something else? They keep being offered chicken.
by Brian Gilmore
Troy Davis is dead.Executed in Georgia this past week.He said over and over he is innocent and though my personal feeling is, he did not kill Officer Mark MacPhail more than two decades ago in Savannah, Georgia; that is not the real issue.
The real issue is the prosecution of Troy Davis, the sentencing, and then the failed appeals for a new trial, reveal again that what must die is the death penalty.Who dies and who lives? It is like picking the name from a hat.I could be on death row if I get mistaken for someone one night. Some who have been exonerated spent decades in jail due to false identification, or a corrupt system. That is all they had on Davis in the end: two eyewitnesses, one of which some said was the real killer who had threatened to kill the others if they told the truth.
The other seven eyewitnesses recanted. Four said they police threatened them to get them to finger Davis, according to various media accounts as the fervor over Davis’ impending annihilation loomed in the media.
By the same token, Samuel David Crowe is alive today. In 1988, he brutally murdered Joseph Paia in cold blood.He was about to be executed in 2008 when the same Georgia Parole Board that sent Troy Davis to his end, saved Crowe.The Paia family was absolutely crushed by the decision and could not even speak to the media when the decision as announced. Here is what Crowe did to Pala and what he confessed to without any doubt:
“Crowe robbed the lumber store after shooting Pala in the chest. Pala was shot at two more time by Crowe as he was trying to run for his life. Crowe then beat him with a paint can, and poured paint over his face. Thinking he may still be alive, he proceeded to beat him over the head with a crowbar. He fled the scene with $1,160.”
I am not arguing that Crowe should have put to death in 1988. I am here to argue that the state has no business murdering people on my dime or your dime. It suggests that all agree with these arbitrary decisions to kill people, even when there is serious doubt, about guilt. Should Tim McVeigh have been spared? Yes. How about the DC Sniper who had me buying gas in the crime infested sections of Washington D.C. because I knew the hood was safe from the madness? Yes. I think the death penalty should die. I don't like the first murder or the follow-up killing by the state.
As for Davis, the questions will linger. Did Davis have to die because a cop was the victim? Was Davis the person who did it? No one really knows but Davis.
Jessica Care Moore, the fabulous Detroit poet, said this past week she could not believe it when Davis was actually killed and is afraid for her 5 year old son even more now.
Pro-death penalty forces might have rejoiced when Davis was killed this past week. But I believe that capitol punishment, as much as Americans love it, has seen better days and will one day be outlawed. We are just too Old Testament right now. Eye for an eye. Rome wasn't built in a day. And it wasn't reformed in a day either.
“but people, knowing I was from Michigan, would ask me what city. Since most New Yorkers had never heard of Lansing, I would name Detroit. Gradually, I began to be called “Detroit Red”—and it stuck.”â€¨— The Autobiography of Malcolm X
It is May 19, 2010 and I am in Lansing, Michigan. This is the city where Malcolm X, born May 19, 1925 (he was born in Omaha, Nebraska), lived for several years as a youngster.
I drove out to the corner of Vincent Court and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Lansing, May 19, 2010, where there is a sign marking the lot of the former home of Malcolm X. Someone has placed a wreath here today. Someone has remembered.
The area is not a slum area but people are struggling here. You can see it. Low income housing, third hand automobiles, no name greasy food joints, dollar stores, a lot of people, black, white, or Hispanic, just standing around doing nothing.
Lansing is a city that is often forgotten. But it is the city that not only gave us Malcolm Little, but it gave us Detroit Red, and also, Malcolm X. We know he was here in Lansing at least until 8th grade before he went to Boston to live with his sister, Ella.
But it is a bittersweet place this Lansing for Malcolm Little.
Allegedly, the family's first home in Lansing was burned to the ground in 1929. This was, according to more than a few writers, and historians, because Malcolm’s father, Earl, was a member of Marcus Garvey’s black Pan-African organization, the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Malcolm’s father was eventually killed in Lansing. He was run over by a streetcar. Malcolm’s suggestion was always that his father was put under that streetcar by the KKK. Nothing definitive was ever revealed.
According to a newspaper account of his death at the time, Mr. Little died “because he forgot coat…” The same account states that Mr. Little, 41 years old, was “thought to have fallen under truck.” There was a coroner’s inquest but the damage was done; Earl Little, the glue of the family was gone. The Littles, a mother and 10 children, Malcolm included, were scattered throughout the local foster care system. His mother, Louise Little was committed to a mental hospital in Kalamazoo.
It was in Lansing that Malcolm X became disillusioned with becoming something in life, He was a very good student and became class president of his mostly white class. But in a very famous exchange, Malcolm’s English teacher, Mr. Ostrowski told him that becoming a lawyer was not a realistic goal for a black boy. He, Malcolm, should focus in on perhaps becoming a carpenter. Malcolm, as the story goes, was finished with school after that incident.
He left for Boston not long thereafter and became “Detroit Red.” He wound up in prison, and after his rehabilitation, and commitment to a new life in the Nation of Islam, he was now Malcolm X, the revolutionary leader who has come to symbolize the black experience in America even today.
That Lansing experience framed Malcolm X. His father’s pride and death, the destruction of a black family, the racial hatred of an educator telling a very bright black boy that he was nothing.
Then “Detroit Red” and the resurrection years later as our black shining prince.
There are two positive anecdotes from the world of Lansing, Michigan worthy of note.
First, in 1958, Malcolm X married the love of his life Betty Dean Saunders or Betty X (later Betty Shabazz) in Lansing. Who knows why Lansing was chosen to make their union real?
The couple gave birth to five daughters and by all indications, their marriage was a dedicated and faithful union. When she died after being burned in a fire started by her grandson in June 1997, she was buried in Ferncliff Cemetery, in New York, beside her husband.
Also, on January 23, 1963, Malcolm returned triumphantly to East Lansing (Lansing) and gave a speech at Michigan State University. The speech (it is available online with the right computer software), entitled, “Twenty Million Black people in Political, Economic, and Mental Prison,” lasts 21 minutes and to Malcolm’s personal satisfaction, several of his former white classmates from grade school attended.
His former classmates could not believe some of the “fearsome aspects of" Malcolm's "national image.” They came to witness for themselves what their Malcolm had become. One of his classmates, a female, who had not laid eyes on Malcolm since he dropped out of school after his disillusionment, left the Michigan State speech “bewildered that this fiery podium speaker had no trace of… her gentle friend…
This is Malcolm X and the city of Lansing. May 19, 2010.
(a version of this essay originally appeared in Ebony Magazine online - May 20, 2010)
There isn't any doubt in my mind that the replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens should be a woman. Women make up half the population anyway so why shouldn't the court reflect the population. Besides, the Court has been run by white men basically since the beginning of time and has never, ever had a man who wasn't of European descent or African-American. This is a shoddy record.
Nevertheless, the same rules suggested in my entry on replacing Justice Stevens with a man should apply if President Obama nominates a woman: intellectual astute and sharp, young, progressive, and to add - a person willing to confront the conservative bloc on the Court. Here's one no one has even considered:
Don't laugh. And don't worry; he won't do it. But still, it is nice to dream.
President Obama needs to shake that place at its foundation. Nominate the First Lady. Is she intellectual sharp? Certainly. Is she progressive? Sure. Is she willing to confront conservatism? I am certain she will put Roberts and Alito and Thomas in their place when the moment arrives.
Democrats are probably afraid of her because they think she is a divisive choice. I guess I should remind everyone that no matter who Obama picks, it will be a divisive choice. The GOP is committed to division and obstruction. They don't govern; they wait for campaign donations. Anyone who governs offends them because it means they have to actually do something.
But Mr. Obama says he is committed to someone who understands ordinary people and how the law affects them. His wife doesn't meet that profile? Mrs. Obama does and that is the point. Nominate her. The GOP will be paralyzed again with fear. She also will let Roberts and Alito know that they will be challenged on all of their outlandish views. Throw in the fact that she is in her mid-40s and we are talking 35 years on the Court.
But he won't do it, and she wouldn't accept. Mrs. Obama loves her children and her freedom (within the confines of power). She also wants to go back to Chicago. I am sure of it. It is still nice to dream.
Pragmatism is telling President Barack Obama to name a consensus builder, a moderate, to fulfill the soon to be vacant U.S. Supreme Court seat held by the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Stevens, a legend, and brilliant legal mind, has big shoes to fill.
But on this one, Mr. Obama should ditch the pragmatism. He needs to go long on this one and change the game. The safe play is the consensus builder; the bold play is to nominate a sleeper pick, a clear progressive jurist, who is intellectually astute, young, and ready to pursue an agenda that restores the rule of law, protects privacy, and promotes diversity with a living, breathing constitution, not a document lost in the racist and unequal past of the United States.
I am sorry to say that the candidates already being floated by the media are outstanding choices but are really not about the future except perhaps Elena Kagan. And this pick should be about the future, because by the time the new justice becomes a presence on the court, they might be in position to truly resolve some of this country’s dilemmas (same sex marriage for instance or the death penalty).
So what they are controversial; now is the time for controversy and ideology. Was John Roberts a consensus choice? Was Samuel Alito a pragmatic choice? Maybe I am search of the next David Souter (I doubt it), but really, I am in search of the next William Brennan or someone to the left of Brennan to balance this thing out a little. Activists and commentators on the right swear the Court is unbalanced; yet a conservative has been Chief Justice for 40 years now. This is why we need a little bit of ideology. We need a judge we know is a progressive who is going vote progressive. Roe v. Wade is the law and even better, it should be the law. Miranda v. Arizona is the law, and it should be the law. Affirmative action is the law and efforts to overturn it are driven by racism. What nominee would ever say any of that?
No one truthfully. But even still, let us dream a bit.
So you ask, who are these sleeper picks out there that no one has heard of (this is a good thing, actually)? We will do this in two parts, men, and then women (in a future column). Here are three men that Mr. Obama should consider in order to shake things up at the Court. We know Mr. Obama is a hopeless pragmatist but we are dropping the names anyway.
Goodwin Liu was recently nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the Republicans have thrown up roadblocks. This is because Mr. Lui is a rock star in the legal world and a progressive. He is in favor of abortion rights, diversity, and is big on the fact that Bush administration trashed the U.S. Constitution as they ramped up the war on terrorism. He has written about it so he is a known quantity and is trouble for the originalist crowd because he knows the original constitution was undemocratic. Yet, most importantly, Mr. Lui criticized both John Roberts and Samuel Alito for their views. This makes him the perfect pick: why not have someone on the Court who is prepared to intellectually challenge the conservative block currently sitting on the Court?
Professor Aderson Francois is currently a law professor at the Howard University School of Law, and is like Gordon Lui, an intellectual rock star. Professor Francois is just the kind of person the GOP is afraid of because he has no extensive writing history that can be used against him. In fact, if he were the nominee, everyone would say: Who? But Professor Francois is as qualified as anyone. He worked in a corporate setting as well as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and is a champion of civil rights and a scholar on constitutional issues. In the future, when the Court finally extends marriage equality to all (same sex marriage), Francois will be the person who can deliver the opinion because he has written about the topic from a historical vantage point. He practices in federal courts right now as he is a clinician in the civil rights area.
No one has heard of Eric Halperin either and that is good. He works at the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Counsel on Fair Lending. He has extensive experience in litigation and was for a long time, the Director of the Center for Responsible Lending. This organization was about ordinary people which is where the Court has been lacking for decades now. Justice Earl Warren departed back in the 1970's and the conservatives took the place over. Halperin, like Ralph Nader, is consumer focused and is a top notch attorney with again - no extensive paper trail but it is safe to say, he is progressive on many of the key issues. He probably does not want to be a judge but it is likely he would make a great counter to the conservative judicial movement on the court. He is also, as required by your writer, a young man.
With little, if any, notice this past week, the 50th anniversary of the student sit-in movement arrived. It was, indeed, 50 years ago, that four college students in North Carolina, decided they had had enough. They entered a Woolworth's store in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at a lunch counter and asked to be served. The lunch counter did not serve the four students because they were black. The date was February 1, 1960. It was a social earthquake that these four young black men risked their lives and future that day, but they did, and all is different, in the United States at least partially because of them.
The students sat for two hours that day, and did not get served. The store closed and they departed being sure to report back to their friends and fellow students what they had done. The next day, more than 20 students appeared at the same counter, and the modern civil rights era had begun. The black students had courage and were fearless; history was on their side too.
I recently wrote about the moment in commentary for the Progressive Media Project. The opinion piece has already appeared in several newspapers. It is good to know that the word about this historical event is trickling out. Yet, reading some of the comments one would be disturbed at the attitudes of some of this country's citizens. Here is one comment to my article from a Fredricksburg, Va newspaper:
"This is Black History Month. Why not USA History Month instead? Why do we have the UNCF and Black colleges? Did our current President attend one of these colleges? Why do we have a Black Miss America contest when our current Miss America is a beautiful, talented, and humble black woman? Why do we have the BET? The NAACP? And any number of other racist programs? Why do we keep telling non-whites that they need these programs? That they are not good enough to compete without them? When will it stop? 1 USA?"
There seems to be complete disconnect when reading that response. How is that the person reads about the sit-ins, an incident where human beings want to be treated equally, and they decide it is an opportunity to attack the very idea of diversity? It was, to say the least, a disturbing comment but needless to say, one of many. Another comment stated that the sit-ins were something akin to affirmative action. How can allowing people to sit down, order a meal, and pay for it, be affirmative action?
Ultimately, these comments reflect a failure of the country to not only oppose racism but to promote diversity, and not as a novelty either but as something which is the way of the world. Perhaps, we need mental sit-ins to change the way we think.
I wrote a commentary for the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s holiday commemoration, for the Progressive Media Project. The commentary, which basically stated that the United States was not "post-racial" yet, and needed to work to be "post-poverty," was picked up by 31 newspapers around the country. This was over 2 million potential readers all around the country, In states such as Texas, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and even North Dakota, the article appeared in small to medium sized local papers, just the kind of papers I personally love and are the backbone of our system of a free and independent press.
The fact that the commentary was picked up by so many newspapers is again a testament to the enduring and universal message of Dr. King. Dr. King's words resonate today. The selection of the commentary also again highlighted the importance of our media system and the editors which make that system work. The Progressive Media Project simply provides the commentary; it is up to the editors to select the particular commentary for distribution. The fact that a progressive opinion service got the word out was a great thing.
I am proud to have been able to contribute a small bit of discussion to continue the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To a certain extent, in the age of Obama, many of us have gotten complacent about King's legacy on race and poverty. The U.S. is a deeply unequal country with millions of poor people, millions of people out of work (who want to work), and millions without health care. Millions also go hungry each day. No one has taken up Dr. King's cause since his death to the extent that he did during his life. He asked before he died: where do we go from here? We know but no one is moving anywhere.
I do not get what the problem is with what Harry Reid said about Barack Obama. According to the scuttle butt I have receiving from various sources (word of mouth, electronic, etc.) Reid urged Mr. Obama to run for President in 2006. Reid's thinking at the time was Mr. Obama was light skinned and did not have a "negro dialect" unless he needed it.
GOP Chairman, Michael Steele is on record as calling for Senator Reid to resign because the statement is racist. Huh? Am I missing something?
For the record, Mr. Steele is a well known opportunist for his party, the Republicans. I understand it is job to fan the flames of division and make Senator Reid look bad. I get that.
However, I have a suggestion for Mr. Steele: choose something else. This is not a Trent Lott moment or an Alphonse D'Amato moment. This is not even close to racism. In fact, it might be a moment of clarity in our racial madness.
Clearly this statement is no indication that Mr. Reid's statement is a racist, as Steele and many other Republicans have alleged. If anything, Mr. Reid is airing the dirty laundry of the United States and telling everyone else, the country is racist. He is saying emphatically in code nonetheless, that White America will vote (and did) for Mr. Obama because he is light skinned (and has a white mother) and because he doesn't sound like most black people White America encounters. This is, for want of a random survey, thought to be factually accurate by many people, black and white and red and brown and yellow.
In other words, White America still has trouble with black people but Mr. Obama, by being light in complexion, and by speaking in that funny Kansas accent, most of the time, had a good chance to get elected. Not only was Mr. Reid correct in his racial perception, Mr. Obama was elected.
The other fact about this is, black people were saying this for months about Mr. Obama. Many African-Americans did not like him because he was not a descendant of a chattel slave and because he was light skinned. The negro dialect issue was also mentioned repeatedly in circles I travelled in over and over during the primaries. It was not until he won in Iowa that black people began to think he could win and forgave him for not having the blood of slaves in his veins.
So before many of us call for Mr. Reid's head, lets think about what he said carefully because one day many will say - Harry Reid did not tell any lies. This is America is is talking about; he just told you where you live.
It has been said quietly, amongst many African-Americans in Washington D.C., ever since Michelle Rhee took over as Chancellor of Public Schools, that she had been brought in to shake things up. It has also been said amongst many of the same people (people I have spoken to) that she was trying to do it as "the new white person" meaning, she is doing what a white person cannot do because she is Asian, and a person of color as well, a minority so to speak. It was a dicey allegation when I heard it, and Rhee, who is intelligent, and seemingly well intentioned, certainly doesn't come across that way. However, more than one person said it, in fact, many said it.
Yet, it is likely now that the racial drums will beat louder now because of two events: the improvement in math test scores amongst D.C. Public Schools, and Rhee's rather coy comments regarding the firing of an African-American principal at Hardy Middle School in Washington D.C.
The first of these events is obvious: while test scores amongst students is up, the test scores of black students barely moved. Chancellor Rhee framed it that way but the very next day, The Washington Post, brought her back to earth. The most vulnerable group, the students who this is really all about, are not improving yet Rhee was happy about improved test scores. The subtle implication: oh, those are just the blacks, they're stupid anyway.
The second event, the firing of Patrick Pope, principal at Hardy Middle School also has racial implications though not as obvious. Hardy, for the record, is located in Georgetown, one of the more affluent areas of the city, and an area with a high concentration of whites. The children, though they are located near pretty good public schools, don't attend these schools. Rhee wants to change that. In addition, at a contentious meeting regarding the firing, Rhee's attempt to align herself with the neighborhood parents, crashed and burned on the policy runway. Her knowledge of the situation, according to reports, was awkward.
In the end, many concluded that Rhee simply wants to do something; what that is, no one seems to know. Parents of black students think it is racial.
While no one can really know, to suggest that race played no part in decisions involving a school system that is still mostly black is corrupt. It would better for Chancellor Rhee to deal the cards straight and not try to cup cards and cheat to win. Whites have been pouring back into the city for a decade now and the city's racial make-up is flipping. This is a fact. It would only follow that white families seeking to stay would want the racial make-up of their schools to begin to reflect the city's racial make-up. To assert otherwise is a bad reflection on anyone. The real shame is, the schools are awful but now that whites are returning to the city, there is finally some real talk of change. Too late for so many black children with diplomas who can't even read, I guess.
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