The Global African: Ferguson, Iran, & Urban Development Pt. 2
In this episode of teleSUR’s The Global African, host Bill Fletcher Jr. explores the DOJ report on Ferguson and discusses Iran-U.S. negotiations
BILL FLETCHER, HOST, THE GLOBAL AFRICAN: Today on The Global African we’ll talk about a recently released report by the Department of Justice on Ferguson, ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, and the intimate relationship between Jim Crow segregation and capitalism in the U.S. housing market.
That’s today on The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us, and don’t go anywhere.
FLETCHER: On March 4, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Darren Wilson, a white police officer, would not be charged with civil rights violations in the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American, in a high-profile incident that occurred last summer.
At the same time, the Department of Justice released a report detailing a long string of racist practices on the part of the Ferguson Police Department. It was found that black civilians make up 93 percent of all arrests from 2012 to 2014. That’s right–93 percent. Along with arrests, the DOJ found that African Americans are stopped often, issued a high level of citations, and subject to fees at a far greater rate than any other social group. The report looked at the Ferguson Police Department. But how many more cities are out there with similar stories? Does the Department of Justice have a plan to take a better look into the criminal justice system as a whole?
Joining us for our panel are Monique Dixon and Reverend Graylan Hagler.
Monique Dixon is the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s senior policy counsel for criminal justice and state education initiatives.
Also joining us is Reverend Graylan Hagler, who, in addition to being a longtime friend of mine, is a pastor of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., and the director of Faith Strategies, a think tank of clergy that focuses on worker justice, civil, and human rights.
Welcome to the program.
REV. GRAYLAN HAGLER, PLYMOUTH CONGREGATIONAL UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Thank you.
MONIQUE DIXON, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: Thank you.
FLETCHER: Ferguson, Missouri. So we have two things that I’d like us to look at. One is the report from the Department of Justice, and the second is the shooting that took place. And let’s just start with the report.
DIXON: It didn’t surprise me. You know, the report confirms what civil rights–the civil rights community and what individuals in Ferguson knew all the time, and that is that, you know, police violence against African Americans in this country is not a thing in the past. It continues today. We commemorated the Selma-to-Montgomery march. And we know that those 50 years ago, individuals were, African Americans marched for their voting rights and was met at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge with state troopers beating them with billy clubs and tear gassing them. And fast-forward 50 years, we see a series of police killings and beatings of African-American men and women–you know, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Michael Brown in Ferguson. So the DOJ report was not surprising. But the facts that were laid out in the report was disturbing nonetheless. And so it really–it wasn’t a shock, but very upsetting.
HAGLER: It was in some ways splitting hairs to not bring charges against the police officer but then, in a sense, to go after the institution of law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri. So we’re splitting hairs, because they had, in a sense, failed in the first part, which was to look at the culpability of the police officer. So they failed in that regard.
So then the second thing was was that they needed to try to do something in order to be able to quell the continued disturbances that had been taking place all across the country. And so this was the next-best thing.
And that next-best thing obviously is important–I’m not downplaying it–to look at the very structure and nature of law enforcement and what it also historically–what it’s doing in Ferguson, but also what it’s been historically designed to do. And it’s been historically designed not only to oppress people and to occupy people, but it’s also been designed to create a kind of economic drain on those communities through fines, through infractions, through all those kinds of things, which is not just particular to Ferguson, because wherever you’ve got poor folk, you’ve got poor folks who are really wracked and drained financially by the criminal justice system.
FLETCHER: What part of the report made me think about in terms of the issues of fees and other things was that the public sector is being strangled. And as it’s being strangled, in order to bring in revenue, they strangle the poor.
FLETCHER: And the most vulnerable segments of the population. And, I mean, some of this is just absolutely ridiculous. I mean, you know, fining somebody for giving the name Mike when your name is Michael, I mean, just–. But they’re able to get away with it. And, you know, going back to this general issue of race, to the extent to which white Americans look at this as really either justifiable or something that they don’t need to pay attention to, this kind of activity just simply continues.
DIXON: It’s pretty hard. I’m thinking about your comment about the white community ignoring this and going on with their day-to-day business. But it’s pretty difficult to do that, given the data in this report. You know, African Americans made up 67 percent of the population and was 85 percent of vehicle stops. And the most upsetting statistic for me was 88 percent of the excessive use of force incidents. And the weapon of choice was electronic control weapons such as tasers and dogs. And 100 percent of the dog bites were against African Americans, and some of them children–students in school who wouldn’t leave a classroom when asked by the officer to leave was tased. And that was just outrageous. And it happens all over the country. It’s not just in Ferguson. We just had an experience here in Baltimore City where a school police officer assaulted a student with a baton and she required stitches in a middle school.
HAGLER: And I hate to paint with a broad brush, but in a sense what you’re saying is absolutely accurate, but the white community exists in a whole ‘nother world.
HAGLER: And you’re already hearing the arguments, even with the report come out, that say, well, if a police officer’s stopping you, he’s got a good reason to stop you. Why would you question that? Why would you resist that? I mean, those kind–those kinds of things over and over again, and that–in that it reinforces the sort of old stereotypes that helps to foster race and racial bias, right, which is that blacks are brutes given over to criminality, right, have that tendency to just attack you for no reason, right? Right? I mean, those type–that continue–. And basically, white America has subscribed to that, has been conditioned into that kind of thinking and do not in general live close enough to anybody of color to have any of that kind of racism dispelled.
FLETCHER: We have a few minutes. I feel we have to talk about the shooting. You know, the–when I heard about the shooting, I immediately felt that it was a provocateur. I don’t mean, like, objectively a provocateur, which–it is certainly that, but my immediate impulse was that somebody was doing this in order to discredit the demonstrations and the protesters.
HAGLER: I’m going to tell you truthfully as a preacher of the gospel, I’m not too alarmed at two cops being shot. And the reason I say that is because not too many people are alarmed right now at young men, black men, being shot. And I’m not advocating that folks go out and shoot, right? But I’m sitting up there saying that, you know, the imbalance of this and sort of the nonchalant way that you can kill somebody’s son–
HAGLER: –and just sort of justify it–. And nobody looks back over their shoulder about it. Nobody sheds a tear for this. They’ll do these perfunctory condolences. But it is meaningless, because you’ve got somebody’s son in the grave. And all I’m saying is that I would wish folks would put down guns on all sides, right? But that onus also lies on the police department: put down guns on all sides and learn how to deal. I mean, it’s like we’ve never dealt in this country very well with community policing in the first place. Right?
DIXON: Well, what is community policing?
HAGLER: Right. They throw around the term. They’ve never defined it. They don’t want to define it. Right? They think that community policing is that somebody picks up the phone and squeals on somebody, rather than you have a real working relationship in the community, so that you know whose–which families are dysfunctional, who needs some extra help in order to be able to excel in school, all those kind of things, right? That’s what community policing is. It should not even be called policing, for that matter, but it should be community engagement, right, in a positive and constructive way.
But the reality is is we want to–we call it community policing because we get together and we talk about what house was burglarized and this and that. And those are things you can talk about. But I’m just saying that on this piece, on this piece that is taking place, we have people being killed. And it’s not just this year and it’s not just last year.
DIXON: That’s right.
FLETCHER: I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll be back in a moment. So don’t go anywhere.
FLETCHER: Much has been made of Jim Crow and the racism that dominated national and state policy through much of the 20th century with respect to housing. However, what about the ways in which race and class intersect to enshrine white supremacy at the expense of poor whites, as well as African Americans? And what about a corrupt black leadership class that is oftentimes complicit in this system?
A new book entitled A World More Concrete examines these fundamental issues. I sat down with the author of the book, Professor N. D. B. Connolly. Here is the second part of that discussion.
FLETCHER: FLETCHER: What’s the black working-class response to all of this?
CONNOLLY: Well, you have to understand that it’s very difficult, particularly in the context in the height of Jim Crow, to challenge race, men, and women explicitly in the press, right?
So the black newspaper of Miami at the time, The Miami Times, is owned by a landlording black family. So you’re not going to get a lot of coverage in the press about kind of grassroots organizing. A number of activists who come from outside of town, particularly Jewish Marxists who were coming from up north who were migrating into Miami with a number of other groups, talk about how difficult it is to organize working-class black folk. In fact, you have a number of working-class folk in the communities who are making arguments in favor of landlords because they say, well, the state, such as we understand it–local government, federal government–is opposed to black rights, right? There’s no protection of civil rights coming from the New Deal state, no protection from city officials of one kind or another.
So why would we work with them to attack or, you know, overly regulate the folks who are actually building institutions in these communities, right? There’s a very keen awareness, even among working-class folk, that the state is controlled, by and large, by whites and that it’s a white supremacist instrument. And so you still have to work with these landlords to get certain things done.
As the ’60s move on and you have really formal civil rights protests, you begin to see very clear working-class alliances against black landlords. And ironically enough, it ends up being Martin Luther King’s campaign in Chicago in 1966 that really does bust it open for other places around the country.
FLETCHER: In what sense?
CONNOLLY: Chicago becomes the place where King decides he’s going to challenge segregation in the North.
CONNOLLY: And part of the housing struggles that he runs into there is actually challenging black landlords who are ministers and attorneys and who are controlling the tenements and, again, keeping housing conditions bad. Some consider the Chicago movement to be a failure in the sense that you don’t get really prominent desegregation efforts happening in the city at the time. But what it does is it forces black newspapers across the South, many of which are owned by Republican Party conservative black families, to publicize his efforts because he’s still, by all accounts, the most dominant civil rights celebrity of the day.
FLETCHER: What’s the relationship between segregation and gentrification? I’m thinking particularly about the Miami of today and what I see when I go down there.
CONNOLLY: Right. So, segregation is an extraordinarily profitable enterprise. That’s the first thing to understand, that when you can carve up populations into a series of niche markets and make it difficult for them to have choice in terms of where they live, then you can charge people higher prices for their very modest living accommodations.
And this is absolutely a legacy of the Jim Crow moment, right? The federal government understood, landlords and developers understood that as long as Jim Crow was in place, African Americans and other black folk had very little recourse and very few housing options when they in fact had the money to pay for better.
What happens in the post-war period and that becomes a kind of early manifestation of gentrification is that many whites who are threatened by growing black populations begin to ask for state governments to use the power of eminent domain to condemn and destroy black property ownership. And it’s a way of actually improving the property values of their neighborhoods. Right?
So one example in 1947 is a community called Allapattah went to the Miami City Commission and said, we want you to take away this small working-class black neighborhood called Railroad Shop Colored Edition. It was basically a collection of railroad workers and their grandchildren, who all lived in this neighborhood. And I’ve seen the City Commission proceedings myself where they actually lobby to get this piece of land taken from black folk during a very tumultuous expulsion, where the cops literally go up to people’s homes, knock on doors, and throw people out in the rain. They board up the homes and totally expel this population. That’s gentrification in 1947, right?
When you move into a later period, gentrification is much more benign, but it’s running on the same principles. If you can change the zoning designations, if you can use the infrastructure, in some cases use eminent domain, you can take away, then, the ability of black people to stay in their homes. What happens in the case of up-zoning is that once you change the zoning designations from, let’s say, a rental population in a single-family home or much more elite commercial property, many people can’t stay in their property.
So it’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of instruments, the last of which being eminent domain itself, which has actually been expanded in the early 2000s. You can now have private-to-private property transfers since the decision in 2005 Kelo v. New London. And that’s also a weapon that people are using to gentrify communities today.
FLETCHER: In looking at this and listening to you, I’m thinking not just about Miami; I’m thinking about this is a pattern that I see all over the country and what I think of as the racial and class cleansing of our major cities. What kind of resistance have you been able to identify that is capable of blunting this or pointing in a different direction?
CONNOLLY: Wow. It’s a big question. So those moments where you see development efforts or redevelopment efforts thwarted are efforts or moments when you have a kind of cross-class coalition. And these are very difficult to find and very difficult to sustain, because you have to have people who have access to halls of power and influence. You have to have working-class folk who are willing to do the necessary kind of vocalizing of their experience on the ground and in some cases challenge people who might be sharing their racial identity or sharing their community. They have to be willing to speak very frankly about the circumstances are.
But if you look at how cities like, you know, Miami or Atlanta or, you know, other places around the Jim Crow South developed, the early economy of a lot of these places relied on a sense of the power of the dollar and ways of keeping out urban redevelopment. Understand, in a great turn of irony, white and black landlords, for the better part of 40 years, kept out large-scale redevelopment projects across the Jim Crow South. They were organized. It took the interstate highway, it took urban renewal to actually root them out.
Now, while they were protecting their investments, they were also exploiting those populations. But the kind of protectionism that they developed was actually a template or a blueprint that we can now look to and say, okay, in what instances do you have investors who might have better real estate practices, better ownership politics? How can you still keep cities growing in a way that doesn’t disadvantage the black poor? I think there’s something to be said about the coalitions that developed in the interests of protecting landlords’ bottom lines that might actually provide a way forward for thinking about new forms of land politics and again, you know, moving the civil rights question into the 21st century.
FLETCHER: Professor Connolly, thank you very much.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
FLETCHER: Very much.
And thank you for joining us for this segment of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher.
And stick with us. We’ll be back in a moment.
FLETCHER: The United States and several other countries have been negotiating with the government of Iran for months with the aim of securing a deal to address concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear industry. A successful resolution would also contribute to de-escalating tensions in the region. The United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China all have a seat at the negotiating table. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had said that the sides involved should be coming to an agreement soon.
FLETCHER: But now an unprecedented warning letter, signed by 47 U.S. Republican senators, to the government of Iran has made national headlines, threatening to undermine any potential diplomacy. The letter informed the ayatollah that any peace deal reached would face resistance from the Senate and possible modification on the part of future presidents.
What are the political implications of a peace deal with Iran here in the United States? Does opposition to a peace deal from these senators indicate how powerful the warmaking lobby is in the United States?
But what’s particularly fascinating about this moment is that this Republican effort seems to have blown back on them, even inciting many of their own allies, like the New York Daily News, to call them traitors.
FLETCHER: I feel compelled to start with this whole Iran letter. I was beyond outraged in seeing that the Republican 47 senators had sent this letter. The racism not only directed at the president but also the Iranian people I thought was just astounding.
But what amazed me more was then, the next day, to see the front page of the New York Daily News, not known for being a left-wing journal, that condemned these guys as traitors. And I said, wow, this is like, what is this about, that the Daily News, which is always on the wrong side of history, would condemn them as traitors? I mean, how did you respond?
DIXON: Well, I was struck by the fact that the letter was written to the Iranians to educate them about the U.S. Constitution, and when in fact the senators themselves didn’t have a full understanding of the Constitution. A Harvard law professor noted that in the letter, the Republican senators said that they had the–they must ratify treaties when in fact it’s the president who has the power to do so. So I found that to be pretty amusing.
But beyond that embarrassing moment for them, you know, I saw it as another attempt by the Republican Party to embarrass our president, frankly, and so in a way that was quite condescending to the Iranian government.
HAGLER: It’s clear to me, one, it’s racism. I mean, it’s racist at face value. It even starts before the letter, with the fact that they would invite Netanyahu to address Congress without following protocol.
And I was at a clergy meeting just the other day, and we all agreed that going to somebody else’s pulpit, you ask the senior pastor if you can have entrance into the pulpit. It’s just a courtesy thing to do, no matter who’s inviting you, right? It can be the women’s association, it can be the men’s group in the church. But the fact is, no matter who you get the invitation from, you, in a sense, for protocol, for peace, for the proper thing to do, you call the senior pastor and you say, do I have permission to come into your church? Right? So that was all avoided.
But we know what was going on. This was to put that n word, as they would say, in their place, in its place.
FLETCHER: Mhm. That’s right.
HAGLER: That’s all this had to do with, right? The fact that they even sent this letter, again, was to state that this person who is president, who is black, has no power, no ability, cannot speak on behalf of the American government, the United States government, and basically we’re in charge. I mean, that’s the reality that’s going on here. Again, it’s Ferguson in Washington, D.C., carried out by the Congress of the United States and those really extremist voices that exist. And I think that’s what you call them; you call them extremists. They are.
FLETCHER: The authors of the letter seem to have ignored the fact that there’s four other countries that are negotiating with Iran. And, I mean, was that out of ignorance? I mean, common sense would just tell you, I mean, you study the situation, there’s a multinational negotiation process that’s underway. Five countries, including the U.S., against the–vis-à-vis the Iranians, and their letter acts as if this is simply a bilateral negotiation between the United States and Iran. I mean, what was that about?
DIXON: The letter was really targeting the president. It was really less than a page. It didn’t address any particular leader in Iran. It was to all the leaders.
So the intent was not to really–it was to send a message, but I think the message was really to the president, that you’re not in charge, and that we have the authority, and that you cannot move forward with these negotiations without us.
FLETCHER: Well, then, let me ask one final question before we move. Long-term impact. Is there a long-term impact from this action, do either of you believe?
DIXON: I hope not. I mean, the letter was essentially rebuffed by the president and the leaders in Iran. And so the negotiations will move forward. An agreement, they may enter into an agreement. The term of it is questionable. But I think that everyone really understands what the senators were trying to do in sending this letter.
HAGLER: The other thing we’ve got to be–we’ve got to raise this issue, because really right now these Republican Senators who sent the letter, they’re allowing their foreign-policy viewpoint to be set by the leader of another country.
FLETCHER: That’s right.
HAGLER: Right? That’s what this whole Netanyahu thing was about.
FLETCHER: I want to thank you both very much for joining us for The Global African. Thank you for this discussion.
HAGLER: Thank you.
FLETCHER: And thank you very much for joining us for this episode of The Global African. I’m your host, Bill Fletcher. And we’ll see you next time.
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