Is Obama Banning the Box?
Executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report Glen Ford casts doubt on Obama’s latest executive order
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. Executive editor and founder of BlackAgendaReport.com joins us once again for his Ford Report. Glen Ford, welcome back to the Real News Network.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thanks for allowing me to be here.
BALL: So we wanted to talk with you about this week’s announcement from the Obama administration that they are looking to, as they say, ban the box. That is, the provision or the part of an application that allows an employer to check the criminal record of a potential employee. But it sounds as though you’re suggesting that they are not, in fact, doing what they again claim to be. Tell us what you think about what this latest assertion from the Obama administration is all about.
FORD: Well, there certainly is a lot of hype around this executive order that was announced in Newark, New Jersey. And there’s even more misunderstanding about what it really means. This is yet another example of how Obama is being depicted as being on the cutting edge of criminal justice reform when in fact he lags behind his own party and he lags even behind some Republicans on broad questions of criminal justice, and on the hiring of ex-offenders in particular.
First, Obama’s executive order does not, does not stop the [feds] from learning that a job applicant has a criminal record. It only takes the check-off box from the initial application form off. But after that, the feds can and will ask any questions they want about a person’s criminal records. The people who answer those questions in the affirmative will likely not be hired. And we know this from studies which show that 60 percent of black men who have criminal records ultimately are not hired. That’s opposed to only 30 percent of white men. Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Ron Paul, who is a Republican, have both introduced legislation that would seal the records for people who have criminal records, if those are non-violent records. When they go to seek jobs. Obama rejects that. And of course if you don’t seal the record then the employer will find out and you likely will not get the job.
Both MSNBC and NBC news, and those are separate organizations, they both initially reported that Obama was going to ban private federal contractors from using the big box check-off on their employee applications. But that turns out also to be false. Obama has refused to issue such an executive order. And that of course, if he did issue one, would affect millions of dollars.
So Obama is not out front in this issue. In fact, last May, 26 Democratic senators plus Bernie Sanders, and that makes up a clear majority of his party’s membership in the Senate, urged him to issue an executive order just like he did today. But he waited six months to do that. Already 19 states and literally hundreds of cities and counties already have such laws on the books that cover public jobs. And there are seven states in which it is outlawed for private companies to ask questions about a job applicant’s criminal history. But of course, Obama will not do that.
There’s been created an elaborate myth that Barack Obama is some kind of crusader in the criminal justice arena, when actually the exact opposite is true. Just like in all other issues across the board, Obama waits until there’s a consensus, a consensus that goes across party lines. And then he makes this big, grand, public relations gesture. But he never takes the lead on any issue, and he has not taken the lead in criminal justice. But somehow he gets credit. He gets credit, for example, with the release in October, and this month, of about 6,000 non-violent prison inmates, most of whom had been convicted under the old crack cocaine laws. He gets credit for that.
But in fact, it was Obama who kept many of these inmates, thousands of them, in jail longer. For several years longer, when he sent his Justice Department into federal court to make sure that the law that got rid of the old cocaine crack penalties wasn’t made retroactive. So they stayed in jail for a couple more years, but Obama gets the credit for letting them out. It’s all hype, it’s all propaganda. Obama says that he hopes that the next president will galvanize and mobilize the public behind criminal justice reform. But he shouldn’t get the credit for that. It goes to the movement that arose particularly after the death of Trayvon Martin. That’s what [mobilized us].
BALL: But Glen, let me just ask very quickly. Couldn’t, wouldn’t those who want to support or defend his actions, couldn’t they argue just as they have with the Affordable Care Act, that this is one step that will help the fight for nationalized healthcare in the long run? Wouldn’t this be a step towards helping formerly incarcerated members of society eventually get the full ban of the box, or some other, you know, advanced step towards reemployment and reintegration into society?
FORD: Unlike the Affordable Care Act, which is one step forward, two steps back, there’s nothing inherently wrong with banning the box, with keeping that particular box off of the initial employment application. It doesn’t necessarily do too much good. But there’s nothing wrong with it.
The problem here is that Obama, like in all other issues and criminal justice issues, is not in the lead, but he’s being given credit for being in the lead. Nineteen states have already done this. Most of his party’s members in the Senate had been urging him to do this. There’s nothing novel. He’s not going out on a limb. But somehow people are acting like he is the great crusader. And it’s just not true.
BALL: Well, this is why Dr. King was prescient in his warning that a real leader does not seek consensus but seeks to mold consensus. But anyway, Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News.
FORD: Thank you.
BALL: And thank you for joining us as well. I’m Jared Ball again here in Baltimore, saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody.
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