Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Henry Giroux and John Logan On Public Education, Labor Unions, Neoliberalism, the Authoritarian State and the Radical Necessity of Social and Economic Democracy

Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout | News Analysis
December 30, 2014
"It is impossible to understand the current assault on public education without coming to grips with the project of neoliberalism," writes Giroux. (Image via Shutterstock) 

As public schools are privatized, succumbing to corporate interests, critical thought and agency are erased, and education emphasizes market values rather than democratic ideals. The emergence of larger radical social movements depends on public education maintaining its role as a democratic sphere.

Once 2015 begins both the US Senate and House of Representatives will be controlled by the Republican Party, one of the most extremist political parties in US history. (1) Coupled with the empty centrism of the Democratic Party, their ascendency does not bode well for public education or a host of other important social issues. Nor does it bode well for democracy. If we conjured up George Orwell and his fear of state surveillance, Hannah Arendt and her claim that thoughtlessness was the foundation of totalitarianism, and Franz Kafka whose characters embodied the death of agency and the "helplessness of the living," (2) it would be difficult for these dystopian works of literary and philosophical imagination to compete with the material realization of the assault on public education and public values in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century.

These are dangerous times. Compromise and compassion are now viewed as a pathology, a blight on the very meaning of politics. Moreover, in a society controlled by financial monsters, the political order is no longer sustained by a faith in reason, critical thought and care for the other. As any vestige of critical education, thought and dissent are disparaged, the assault on reason gives way to both a crisis in agency and politics. The right-wing Republican Party and their Democratic Party counterparts, along with their corporate supporters, despise public schools as much as they disdain taxation, institutions that enable critical thinking, and any call for providing social provisions that would benefit the public good. Not only are both parties attempting to privatize much of public education in order to make schools vehicles for increasing the profits of investors, they are also destroying the critical infrastructures that sustain schools as democratic public spheres.

The educational needs of students for many Republican and Democratic Party members, pundits, lobbying groups and politicians rank low next to the financial needs of hedge fund managers.

Teachers have been deskilled. Losing much of their autonomy to be creative in the classroom, they have been relegated to technicians whose sole objective appears to be enforcing a deadening instrumental rationality in which teaching to the test becomes the primary model of teaching and learning. Moreover, they are being demonized by the claim that the major problem with public education is lack of teacher accountability. The hidden order of politics here is that larger political and economic considerations such as crushing poverty, mammoth inequality, a brutalizing racism and iniquitous modes of financing public education all disappear from the problems facing schooling in the United States. Teachers also serve as an easy target for the (un)reformers to weaken unions, bash organized labor, discredit public servants, and "argue that education can be improved if taxpayer money is funneled away from the public school system's priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools etc.)." (3)

These policies and practices echo the principles of casino capitalism or neoliberalism and are designed to enforce a pedagogy of repression, one that kills the imagination, sanctions a deadening mode of memorization and instills in students the discipline necessary for them to accommodate willingly to existing power relations at the expense of developing their capacity to be critical and engaged agents. In this case, the aim of this pedagogy of repression mimics Hannah Arendt's claim that "The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any." (4) Public schools are also being defunded as states increasingly develop policies that drain state budgets by giving corporations substantial tax breaks. Diane Ravitch elaborates on the right-wing agenda to destroy public education, which consists of a range of groups ranging from right-wing politicians to shadowy groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). She is worth quoting in full:

Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers. This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own "reform" ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the "reform" agenda for education. (5)

The educational needs of students for many Republican and Democratic Party members, pundits, lobbying groups and politicians rank low next to the financial needs of hedge fund managers; the ultra-rich such as Bill Gates, the Walton family and the Koch brothers; the legislators who make up ALEC; and any number of major corporations. Individual achievement is invoked to justify education as a private right rather than as a public good. The discourses of empiricism and standardized testing become the ultimate measures of achievement just as pedagogical matters concerning civic responsibility, engaged citizenship, thoughtfulness and critical thought disappear from the vocabulary of educational reform.

Under the regime of neoliberalism, community and working together are viewed as a burden because they are at odds with the neoliberal celebration of a survival-of-the-fittest ethos. Paul Buchheit goes even further arguing that "Privatizers believe that any form of working together as a community is anti-American." (6) In this instance, the labeling of community and caring for the other as anti-American has deeper political roots. As Robert Hunsiker observes, "As for neoliberalism, its dictate of 'survival of the fittest economics' is really 'bottom-feeder economics' whereby the rich accumulate more and more and more at the expense of lower and lower and lower wages, less benefits, and crushed self-esteem. What could be worse?" (7)

Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education.

Defunding for public education has gotten so out of control that, as Aaron Kase reports, one public school in Philadelphia asked parents to "chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city's poorer neighborhoods." (8) Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people. As market economies are transformed into market societies, the investment in human capital such as young people has been replaced by an overdetermined emphasis on investing in economic capital. Unchecked market fundamentalism now eats its own children while destroying any viable hope they may have for being included in the social and political infrastructure of democracy and a future that benefits them. (9)

Moreover, the rights of teachers and children are more difficult to protect as unions are either dismantled or weakened by the apostles of neoliberalism and privatization. Secondary education is no longer a right but an entitlement designed mostly to benefit the children of the rich who either flee from public schools to wealthy private schools or attend public schools in wealthy communities that more often than not resemble private schools in terms of how they segregate by class and race, cater to the whims of the rich and enshrine values that are consistent with the market. Schooling for poor people and people of color defined by the school-to-prison-pipeline has come to represent an appendage of the carceral state. This is not only an attack on public education, but an attack on democracy itself. The infrastructure of education has been under assault since the 1980s with the advent of market fundamentalism in the United States and the growing disdain for the welfare state, the public good and public values. By infrastructure, I am referring to the material, financial and intellectual resources necessary for public schools to be able to function in ways that protect teacher autonomy, encourage viable unions, create a curricula that is both critical and meaningful, and produce modes of critical pedagogy that truly embrace education as the practice of freedom and young people as critical agents and engaged citizens necessary for making democracy meaningful and substantive.

The shadow of Orwell now haunts public education and democracy itself as the political defenders of torture and state surveillance take control of Congress. As lawlessness and moral depravity infect all modes of governance, the push toward treating public schools, especially in low-income neighborhoods, as prisons, and students as objects of surveillance and control has become more widespread. The presence of police, guards, cameras, and a host of surveillance and security apparatuses has turned schools into incubators for creating students willing to surrender their freedoms to the national security state. The ghost of Kafka disturbs any vision of democratic education as fear becomes the operative principle in organizing public education, especially for schools largely inhabited by poor people and people of color. For the underserved, education is designed not to inspire and energize, nor is it designed to get students to think, reflect or question. On the contrary, such schools disable the capacities of students to become knowledgeable, informed speaking agents. Instead, it relegates them to the dreary pedagogical tasks of mastering low-level skills such as memorization, a willingness to conform and a refusal to question authority. This is more than a pedagogy of repression; it is a pedagogy of helplessness that infantilizes students while dethroning any relationship between learning and social change.

Schools have become punishing factories subjecting students to zero-tolerance policies that three decades ago were only tolerated in prisons.

Schools have become punishing factories subjecting students to zero-tolerance policies that three decades ago were only tolerated in prisons. (10) Security has been turned into a police matter rather than a term that points to pedagogies, classroom policies, emotional support and modes of administration that provide spaces that dignify students, invest in their welfare, encourage them to expand their capacities for learning and embrace pedagogies that are meaningful, critical and transformative. Schools no longer are viewed as places that create dreams of greatness, extend the horizons of the imagination or point to a future that refuses to mimic the present. On the contrary, they are increasingly held hostage both to the market values embraced by the corporate and financial elite and the fundamentalist ideologies of religious conservatives. It gets worse.

Orwell's premonition about state induced surveillance and Kafka's understanding of the danger of powerlessness encouraged by regimes of fear are now matched by Arendt's warning that human subjectivity is the foundation of politics and that any threat to critical thought, especially through a culture that directs desire into the most trivial of pursuits and anti-intellectual modes of learning, is as dangerous to democracy as the heavy hand of state repression. While Arendt did not use the phrase "radical imagination" to bring home her warning about the crisis and death of critical agency, that is exactly what is being destroyed in the testing factories and penal warehouses replacing public education. As the imagination no longer becomes the subject and object of learning, thoughtlessness expands, as does the foundation for creating students more suited for a totalitarian regime than for a flourishing democracy. Totalitarian governments believe that thinking is dangerous and rightly so. As Arendt points out,

Everything which happens in thinking is subject to a critical examination of whatever there is. That is, there are no dangerous thoughts for the simple reason that thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise. So how I can convince . . . I think, nonthinking is even more dangerous. I don't deny that thinking is dangerous, but I would say not thinking, ne pas reflechir c'est plus dangereux encore [not thinking is even more dangerous]. (11)

In the new Gilded Age with its growing economic divisions, vast punishing state, criminalization of social behaviors, and war on youth, poor people and people of color, public education is being destroyed. Against the prevailing anti-democratic reforms of the economic and religious fundamentalists, the noble belief in schools as democratic public spheres and in schooling as the center of critical thinking and learning needs to be reclaimed, struggled over and taken up as part of a larger social movement for the defense of the public good, public values and the democratic commons. It is precisely this fear of education as a building block for both critically engaged youth and a broader public and for a radical politics that inspires a great deal of fear in the billionaire, anti-public (un)reformers. (12)

Within the next decade the new extremists who now control the commanding institutions of culture, politics and economics will do everything they can to replace a weakly implemented ideal of democracy with the economic and social principles of a ruthless mode of casino capitalism, which constitutes a new form of authoritarianism. Public spheres that provide a challenge to market-driven fundamentalisms that "promote selfishness and thereby corrode both society and the moral character of individuals" will be under further assault and run the risk of disappearing altogether. (13) As selfishness and the amassing of great wealth and power are transformed by the new extremists into a civic virtue, agency itself withers, trapped within the orbits of an inward looking, privatized world.

But there is more at stake here than the collapse of public values and the destruction of a comprehensive vision of politics, largely under assault by the ongoing predatory market forces of commodification, privatization and an unchecked celebration of self-interests as the cornerstone of human agency. Racist killings, the loss of privacy, the rise of the surveillance state, growing poverty and widening inequality, the increasing corporatization of public goods, and the depleting of resources that serve the commons all point to something more than the mounting privatization and atomizing of everyday life, along with the growing militarization, spying, xenophobia, racism and other anti-democratic practices in US society.

It is impossible to understand the current assault on public education without coming to grips with the project of neoliberalism.

What unites all of these disparate issues is a growing threat of authoritarianism - or what might be otherwise called totalitarianism with elections. Neoliberal societies embrace elections because they "exclude and alienate most people from political power" and thus provide a kind of magical defense for the authoritarian project of depoliticizing the public while removing all obstacles to its goal of defending massive inequities in power, wealth and the accumulation of capital. (14) It is impossible to understand the current assault on public education without coming to grips with the project of neoliberalism and its devaluation of the social, critical agency and informed thinking as part of its attempt to consolidate class power in the hands of a largely white financial and corporate elite.

The struggle for public education as a crucial civic resource and public good must continue through the large-scale organizing of teachers and labor unions, students and groups outside of education who are also struggling against a range of injustices. The struggle over public education cannot be removed from wider struggles against student debt, funding for public goods, the elimination of massive inequalities in wealth and power, the elimination of the military-industrial-security state, the abolition of police brutality, and the eradication of the punishing-mass incarceration state, among other struggles. These struggles all share underlying interests in restoring and reclaiming a notion of radical democracy that puts power in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of the ruling elites. They also intersect around the need to elevate social needs over the narrow interests of the market and those elites who benefit from the financialization of society.

As the ruthlessness and misery produced by neoliberalism is made clear, the state resorts to increased levels of violence, often with impunity, particularly when it comes to attacking peaceful student protesters, and assaulting and often killing unarmed black men. (15) At the present moment, large-scale protests are taking place throughout the United States making clear that the public will no longer tolerate the indiscriminate killing of black men, the enforcement of racist policies across a wide social landscape, unrestrained police brutality and the continuing of widespread lawlessness that corrupts every institution - and schools in particular - that have been privatized and organized according to the narrow, if not savage and anti-democratic, interests of the market.

The ongoing protests in response to the killing of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in New York City, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and the non-indictments of police officers who killed them, must intersect with protests over the defunding of public schools, the attack on welfare state institutions and services, the movement to save the environment, the anti-nuclear movements and a host of other isolated movements that need to join together in a new political formation capable of challenging the financial elite who have taken over the US government and all the commanding institutions of US society. The "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" and "I Can't Breathe" protests must overlap and connect with the struggle over public and higher education and the broader struggle for reclaiming a democracy that fulfills both its most radical ideals and its commitment to the common good, public values and a capacious notion of justice.

The Obama administration's educational policies have been more conservative than that of his predecessor and are based on accountability schemes that reproduce the worst of the testing craze.

The best hope for reforming public education resides in the emergence of what Stanley Aronowitz calls "disruptive social movements that operate outside of the two-party system." (16) Young people, single women, gays, students, union members, and other left groups no longer believe in either the Democratic Party or the two-party system. How else to explain their massive refusal to vote in the 2014 elections, which had the lowest voter turnout since 1943? As Aronowitz points out, for the last few decades, the Democratic Party has been particularly beholden to big money, wealthy donors and the Pentagon, and has pursued "centrist politics that allow them to follow the Republicans ever further to the right." (17) President Obama personifies the political and moral cowardice of the Democratic Party given his violation of civil liberties and civil institutions, the development of a foreign policy that amounts to a doctrine of perpetual war, and his backing of "corporate-friendly economic policies." (18) Moreover, the Obama administration's educational policies have been more conservative than that of his predecessor George W. Bush and are based on accountability schemes that reproduce the worst of the testing craze along with an aggressive approach to promoting charter schools, an attack on unions and the privatization of public education.

The current "disruptive social movements" emerging all over the country have not only opened up a national conversation about police brutality; they have also challenged the "conventional wisdom about what is possible" politically, and if these continue they could produce more far-reaching changes. (19) Both the movements against police brutality and the now largely defunct Occupy movement have provided new discursive signposts for acknowledging important social issues such as racially based police brutality and massive inequality in wealth, income and power. Central to these movements is the recognition of the educative nature of politics and the need to harness the rage of the public to points of identification that move people and indicate to them that they have the power collectively to challenge and transform the current corrupt regime of neoliberal capitalism.

These movements have created new ideological and affective spaces in which to assert the radical imagination and develop a project and politics of educated hope. Making education and the symbols of culture central to their tactics they have engaged in a war in which representations, affect, struggle and the need to produce new desires, identities, and modes of consciousness and agency matter. But they have done something more. These emerging movements are taking risks in not only confronting the raw power of state repression; they are also putting forth bold new and controversial issues such as gay marriage, the legalization of marijuana, the call for a social wage, single-payer universal health care, a shorter work week, the dismantling of the surveillance state, a new Marshall Plan for job development, free education, subsidized child care and racial justice.

Some progressives believe that one response to the extremism of the Republican Party can be found in pushing the Democratic Party to embrace more radical reforms such as gay marriage and a call for raising the minimum wage. The notion that real political, economic and social reform can be realized within the Democratic Party is more than pure fantasy; it also suffers from a form of historical amnesia that refuses to recognize that the only "reform the Democratic Party has implemented is to move more and more to the right, all in the name of a safe centrism that has marked its legacy for the last fifty years." (20)

At its best, education is dangerous because it offers young people and other actors the promise of racial and economic justice, a future in which democracy becomes inclusive and a dream in which all lives matter.

What Orwell, Arendt and Kafka have taught us is that when power is decoupled from accountability and responsibility, thoughtlessness prevails, repression increases and fear becomes the organizing principle of totalitarian societies, whatever form they may take. The legacy of fear and the lawlessness it inspires runs deep in the United States and its destructive effects are spreading into every public sphere capable of offering critical reflection on the nature of power in a society. The collapse of education into training, the loss of autonomy by teachers, the removal of the conditions that enable students to be critical and engaged citizens all speak to the character of a society in which independent thought is debased; creativity, stifled; and dissent, squelched.

We live in an age dominated by financial barbarians who are more than willing to place the vast majority of Americans in strangulating debt, low paying jobs, devastating poverty and spheres of life-threatening abjection, or, even worse, in "criminogenic ghettoes" and penal gulags. Under such circumstances, the rich commit crimes with impunity while the poor are put in jail in record numbers. Depravity and illegality feed each other as torture is defended by the political leadership as a reasonable tactic to extract crucial information from prisoners. All that stands between state terrorism and mass induced fear are informed citizens, critically educated agents and political formations willing to act with the courage necessary to think politics anew while developing innovative strategies, institutions and organizations that make it possible. Such struggles will not happen in the name of reform alone. Mass resistance to the authoritarian financial state must take place and its goal must be the dismantling of the current corrupt political system that has little to do with democracy and a great deal to do with the values, practices and policies of authoritarianism. Liberal reforms constitute a form of political regression and lack a powerful vision for challenging the corrupt and lifeless political vision produced by the regime of neoliberalism.

At the same time, the democratic institutions in which education is defined as the practice of freedom, critical learning and civic responsibility may be under siege by the lobbyists, hedge fund managers and the billionaires club, but the radical spirit of education is too powerful to be contained under state and corporate repression. The promise of educated citizens along with the enduring character of critical reflection and the search for economic, political and racial justice lives on in the demonstrations of workers, unions and young people all across the United States who are not just protesting police brutality, but also marching in order to have their voices heard as part of the promise of a radical democracy along with the arrangements that give it and them a meaningful and just life. At its best, education is dangerous because it offers young people and other actors the promise of racial and economic justice, a future in which democracy becomes inclusive and a dream in which all lives matter. Ursula K. Le Guin who was recently honored at the National Book Awards speaks about the power of books, words and artists who believe in the power of freedom, but I think her words also apply to education and other public intellectuals as well. She writes:

Books, you know, they're not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art - the art of words. I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries - the realists of a larger reality. (21)

Le Guin's words remind us of the power of education and point indirectly to the need to resist all forms of miseducation. Miseducation breeds isolated consumerism, ignorance, militarism, a hatred of the other and indifference to the public good, and feeds a logic of disposability embraced by those who view justice and democracy as a liberal burden, if not a pathology. At its best, the critical and humane spirit of public education lives on in the future of social movements and militant labor unions willing to unify into a third party, create a new language of politics, defend those civic principles that are incompatible with casino capitalism and recognize that the most important investment a country can make is in its youth and educational institutions. The war on public education is part of the war on democracy and it is, in part, born of the legitimate fear that the emergence of larger radical social movements will depend on the development of a formative educational culture and modes of subjectivity that enable the agents for such movements. That is a concern worth nurturing and a struggle worth waging, and time is running out.


1. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism (New York: Basic Books, 2013).

2. Cited in Marie Luise Knott, Unlearning with Hannah Arendt, Trans by David Dollenmayer (New York: Other Press, 2013), p. 10.

3. David Sirota, "New data shows school 'reformers' are full of it," Salon, (June 3, 2013). Online:

4. Hannah Arendt, "Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government," The Origins of Totalitarianism, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York: 2001). pp. 468.

5. Diane Ravitch, "The People Behind the Lawmakers Out to Destroy Public Education: A Primer
What You Need To Know About ALEC," Common Dreams (May 2, 2012). Online:

6. Paul Buchheit, "How Our Public Schools Became a "Communist Threat"," Common Dreams (November 18, 2013). Online:

7. Robert Hunziker, "A Neoliberal Spring?," CounterPunch (December 18, 2014.) Online:

8. Aaron Kase, "Public School Asks Parents to Pay $613 Per Student As Right-Wing Governor Destroys Public Education with Insane Defunding," AlterNet (August 22, 2013). Online:

9. See for instance, Roger Cohen, "'Capitalism Eating Its Children," The New York Times (May 29, 2014). Online:

10. See, for instance, the classic work on zero tolerance: William Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn and Rick Ayers, eds. Zero Tolerance: Resisting the Drive for Punishment in our Schools (New York: The New Press, 2001). See also, Annette Fuentes, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse (New York: Verso, 2013).

11. Hannah Arendt, Hannah Arendt: The Last Interview and Other Conversations, (Brooklyn, NY: Melville House Publishing, 2013), p. 123.

12. Michael D. Yates, "Public School Teachers: New Unions, New Alliances, New Politics," Truthout, (July 24, 2013). Online:

13. Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, "Selfishness in austerity times," Soundings, Issue 56, Spring 2014. p. 55.

14. Lorenzo Del Savio and Matteo Mameli, "Anti-representative democracy and oligarchic capture" Open Democracy (August 16, 2014). Online:

15. Robin D. G. Kelley, "Why We Won't Wait: Resisting the War Against the Black and Brown Underclass," Counterpunch (November 25, 2014). Online:

16. Stanley Aronowitz, "Democrats in Disarray," The Indypendent (December 16, 2014), p. 12. Online:

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. One recent example of this kind of pie in the sky politics can be found in Scott Galindez, "2014: The Beginning of the End for the GOP?" Reader Supported News (December 26, 2014). Online:

21. Ursula K. Le Guin, "We will need writers who can remember Freedom," Speech at the 2014 National Book Awards. Online:
The Five Best Labor Stories of 2014
Tuesday, 30 December 2014
By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed 

Walmart employees picket outside of the Walmart store in Pico Rivera, California on November 6, 2013. The employees accuse Walmart of continued unlawful retaliation against workers who speak out for change at the company. Some of the striking workers say that when they have come forward to call on Walmart to address issues with scheduling, wages, benefits and above all else, respect in the work place, Walmart  has reacted by retaliating against them. (Photo: UFCW International Union / Flickr)

This year has turned out to be another tough one for US workers. In particular, the results of the 2014 midterm elections, which saw the reelection of anti-union governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, demonstrated that the attack on labor rights at the state level, which started in earnest in January 2011, has yet to run its course. Next year, more states will introduce legislation that restricts collective bargaining rights, right-to-work bills that outlaw voluntary union security agreements and "paycheck protection" bills that make it more difficult for unions to raise and spend money on politics.

But 2014 also saw several more positive developments for workers and unions that suggest that the labor movement might yet have a brighter future in the coming years. Below are five important and hopeful stories from the past 12 months.

1. The Fight for Fifteen: Nothing comes close in significance to the struggle of fast-food workers, airport workers, home-care workers and workers at federal government buildings for a minimum wage of $15 per hour. In the latest round of actions, fast-food workers and their allies held strikes and protests in at least 190 cities around the country. Prior to the first strikes in New York City two years ago, few would have taken seriously the demand for $15 per hour for McDonald's and Burger King workers. Now, not only is it taken seriously, but it has also influenced living wage battles in cities across the nation. Next year the most important labor campaign in decades will escalate its protest action.

2. OUR Walmart: Just over two years ago, Walmart workers participated in the first ever strikes in the history of the world's largest retailer. This year's Black Friday protests were the largest so far: Thousands of community allies joined workers from OUR Walmart to engage in walkouts, sit-down strikes and other protests. These actions highlighted the high cost to the public of poverty wages, poor working conditions and management retaliation. Each year, employees at Walmart, like those at McDonald's, receive billions of dollars in public assistance because their wages are so low. Workers continue to face intimidation, but the tide may be turning against billion-dollar corporations that pay poverty wages at home and abroad. Coordinated by UNI Global Union, the campaign at Walmart has a vigorous international component: Workers in Chile and South Africa have protested this month, and next year will see more protests in the United States and overseas.

3. The UAW Campaign at Volkswagen in Tennessee: In February, when the United Automobile Workers (UAW) narrowly lost a representation election at the Chattanooga plant, this campaign could easily have been remembered as one of the year's low points. After the UAW collected membership cards from a majority of workers, Tennessee's governor and senior US senator colluded with anti-union organizations to mislead and intimidate workers into voting against the union. But the UAW has rebuilt support within the plant and now at least 45 percent of the Volkswagen workers are members. The company, which has behaved in an exemplary fashion throughout, has granted it limited bargaining rights. The campaign demonstrates that if employers remain neutral and workers are free from coercion, they will choose union representation - even in the South. If McDonald's and Walmart were to behave like Volkswagen, their employees would benefit from unions, decent wages, full-time hours and respect at work.

4. The Reinvigoration of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB): For much of the past four years, the GOP Congress, anti-union groups and big business have attempted to stop the NLRB from functioning, with considerable success. In the past few months, however, the Board has made a number of important decisions that should offer some protection to workers who want to choose a union. Earlier this month, the NLRB reissued its final rules to streamline the union certification process and get rid of the worst cases of pre-election delay. In a landmark case in December, an administrative law judge ruled that Walmart violated the law when it discriminated against protesting workers at two California stores. Most recently, the Board's general counsel ruled that McDonald's is a "joint employer" and thus responsible for the unlawful actions committed by franchise managers against workers who participated in legal strikes and protests. It's tempting to dismiss the NLRB as increasingly irrelevant, but the Board under the Obama administration has shown that it still matters and can still play a critical role in protecting workers' rights.

5. The San Francisco Retail Workers' Bill of Rights: For several years, California has bucked national trends, both in terms of maintaining union membership levels and improving labor standards. Perhaps the most significant development in the latter respect has been the enactment in December of San Francisco's "Retail Workers' Bill of Rights." The pioneering legislation provides several important benefits for tens of thousands of low-wage workers in grocery and department stores, restaurants and banks: advance notice of work schedules and estimates of how many hours they are likely to work; the posting in conspicuous places of schedules two weeks in advance; and "predictability pay" if their employer changes their schedules at short notice. Enforcement of the new law will prove challenging, but progressive lawmakers throughout the country are watching it closely, as are its opponents. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said that state and national chambers were extremely concerned that "what's happening in San Francisco can spread nationally." And with a bit of luck, it just well might do that.

Some commentators have suggested that the labor movement's problems have been caused by "self-sabotage," including its alleged backing for law enforcement after recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, and its support for more prisons. Such an analysis both exaggerates the influence of the labor movement - militant managers, not militant workers, have been the driving force behind the transformation of US employment relations - and misrepresents the labor movement's position on these issues, which has evolved significantly. In the wake of the killing of unarmed black men in Ferguson and New York, AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry, AFT president Randi Weingarten, among others, spoke out in support of "Black Lives Matter" protests.

Trumka said: "We cannot wash our hands of these issues.... Racism is part of our inheritance as Americans. Every city, every state and every region of this country has its own deep history with racism. And so does the labor movement." Trumka, who has made confronting racism a priority, has also attacked mass incarceration, stating that we need to replace it with "mass employment," and has given it significant attention at AFL-CIO conventions. Police and prison guard unions disagree with these actions, of course, but they have seldom played well with most other unions, and should not be confused with the entire labor movement. The views of the leadership of the mainstream labor movement on race, policing and mass incarceration is now more progressive than ever before. While that is a welcome development, it will not reverse the long-term decline of unions.

"Self-sabotage," if it exists, certainly does not explain the decades-long decline in union membership. If the labor movement is to be criticized, it should be for being a little too timid for a little too long. The experience of the past few decades has demonstrated that organizing within the official NLRB system is virtually impossible, and that organizing "outside of the law" is extraordinarily difficult. Most likely, it can be done only as part of a mass movement, which is why the Fight for $15 is potentially so important. 

Next year, like 2014, will likely pose serious challenges for US workers and their organizations. But the campaigns and the policy and regulatory developments discussed above demonstrate that there's life left in the labor movement, which remains the last, best hope for reversing skyrocketing levels of economic inequality and restoring some measure of justice and decency to the US workplace.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

John Logan is a professor and director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.


Related Stories:
Labor Unions' Fight for the 99 Percent Goes Beyond Raising Campaign Dollars
By Sarah Jaffe, AlterNet | News Analysis
Labor Unions on the Brink
By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, The Daily Take | Op-Ed
On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Importance of Labor Unions and Meaning Behind Labor Day, and More
By Thom Hartmann, The Thom Hartmann Program | Video Report
Economic Update: Labor and Unions
By Richard D. Wolff, Truthout | Radio Program
Labor Law for the 0.01%
By John Logan, Truthout | Op-Ed

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Please Note: The following list of books is not organized according to any personal hierarchy of the relative value of each individual book. Rather it is a list that seriously considers ALL of the books listed here to be of equal intellectual and cultural value and interest, albeit for different reasons. The bottomline on this list is that each one of these books is extraordinary and invaluable in their own right and represents some of the very best writing published in the United States in 2014.
--Kofi Natambu, Editor

The Half Has Never Been Told:  Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism
by Edward E. Baptist
Basic Books

The Counter-Revolution of 1776:  Slave Resistance And the Origins of the United States of America
by Gerald Horne
New York University Press

The Other Blacklist:  The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s
by Mary Helen Washington
Columbia University Press

Just Mercy:  A Story Of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson
Spiegel & Grau

The Divide:  American Injustice In the Age of the Wealth Gap
by Matt Taibbi
Spiegel & Grau
This Changes Everything:  Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein
Simon and Schuster

Malcolm X At Oxford Union:  Racial Politics In A Global Era
by Saladin Ambar
Oxford University Press

Stokely:  A Life
by Peniel E. Joseph
Basic Civitas Books

Black Prophetic Fire:  In Dialogue with and Edited by Christa Buschendorf
by Cornel West
Beacon Press

Masters Of Mankind:  Essays and Reviews,  1969-2013
by Noam Chomsky
Haymarket Books

This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed:  How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible
by Charles E. Cobb, Jr.
Basic Books

A Fighting Chance
by Elizabeth Warren
Metropolitan Books  (Henry Holt and Company)

SOS--Calling All Black People:  A Black Arts Movement Reader
Edited by John H. Bracey, Jr., Sonia Sanchez, and James Smethurst
University of Massachusetts Press

Louis Armstrong:  Master of Modernism
by Thomas Brothers
W.W, Norton and Company

Herbie Hancock:  Possibilities
by Herbie Hancock  (with Lisa Dickey)

The Universal Tone:  Bringing My Story To Light
by Carlos Santana   (with Ashley Kahn and Hal Miller)
Little, Brown, and Company
Becoming Richard Pryor
by Scott Saul


Brando’s Smile:  His Life, Thought, and Work
by Susan L. Mizruchi
W.W. Norton and Company

Gil Scott-Heron:  Pieces Of A Man
by Marcus Baram
St. Martin’s Press

Citizen:  An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankine
Greywolf Press


Death Of A King:  The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King's Final Year
by Tavis Smiley
Little, Brown and Company
Brothers Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?:  A Memoir
by George Clinton
Atria Books

The Invisible Bridge:  The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
by Rick Pearlstein
Simon and Schuster

Redemption Songs:  Suing For Freedom Before Dred Scott
by Lea Vandevelde
Oxford University Press

The Night Malcolm X Spoke at Oxford Union:  A Transatlantic Story of Antiracist Protest
by Stephen Tuck
University of California Press

Losing Our Way:  An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America
by Bob Herbert

Monday, December 22, 2014

Engagement Or Evasion?: The Politics Of Confronting the Stark Reality of White Supremacy As Doctrine and Practice in the 21st Century


To Ms. Melanie Curtin:
This is a great piece and right on target. Thank you for writing it.  Truth is always refreshing and very much needed and appreciated these days. 

Now please call the President of the United States. I seriously think he needs to talk to you immediately and at length...whether he wants to or not...


The Thing About White Privilege
by Melanie Curtin
Director of Communications at OpiaTalk
December 16, 2014

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about sexual harassment. I was struck by a comment by one of my male friends after reading it: “I’ve never really thought about this kind of thing before, but I’ve been asking my women friends, and every single one of them has stories. One even kinda has a stalker, and I had no idea. It’s like this whole other world exists that I knew nothing about.”

Technically, he and I live in the same world. We shop at the same grocery stores. We take the same subways. We walk the same streets.

Yet I live with a kind of fear and danger on a daily (and nightly) basis that simply doesn’t exist for him. He doesn’t carry his keys between his fingers to stave off potential attackers in parking garages. He hasn’t had a man take his penis out and masturbate while staring at him at a bus stop. His friends don’t ask him to text to let them know he got home safely.

That world is invisible to him. I’ve spent my entire life dealing with something he just … doesn’t.

It’s not the only invisible world.

I’m a young white woman in America. By definition, I live in a different world than black or brown people. I’m not worried about the way my name sounds or whether my picture shows up in a resume search. People don’t stop me at the airport because of what I’m wearing or cross the street to avoid me at night because they’re scared of me. I’m not afraid when a cop pulls me over (which, by the way, only happens when I’m actually doing something worthy of being pulled over for).

In my world, travel is easy, jobs are plentiful, and the police are on my side. It would be easy for me to think this is how it is for everyone.

It’s not.

Fact: I am privileged in this country just because I’m white.

The thing about white privilege is the same as that of male privilege: When you’re privileged, the other world is invisible to you. You literally can’t see it. You aren’t pulled over and harassed by cops, so you think no one is. You don’t worry about how your name sounds on a resume, so you think it doesn’t matter. But just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

The unrest sweeping the country isn’t just about Ferguson. It’s about that invisible world. It’s an accumulation of the pain and rage and outrage over the Mike Brown and Eric Garner-like incidents that occur all over this country every single day. It’s about the things those of us in the majority simply don’t experience.

Truthfully, I often feel helpless when it comes to race relations in America. I feel ashamed when I think about a grand jury reviewing the evidence of a cop who shot an unarmed person six times – six times! – and moved not to have the case go to trial (not to convict -- simply to go to trial). I feel nauseous when I watch the tape of Eric Garner getting asphyxiated by police with a chokehold that is literally illegal. He was murdered by a group of human beings who are supposed to protect people, and then another grand jury failed to indict (again, not to convict, simply to go to trial). All I can think is, “How could they possibly do that?”

Maybe because of white privilege. Maybe because when it’s not happening to you, it’s easy to think it’s “not that bad.” Maybe because it’s simpler for those (white) people on those grand juries to continue ignoring the invisible world that has suddenly become visible and thrown screaming in their faces.

I don’t know.

I do know that a first step is getting real about the difference between being black versus white in America. And just like with sexual harassment, if we think this “issue” is only an issue outside the workplace, we’re deluded:

Job applicants with white sounding names are 50% more likely to receive a callback for a job interview than applicants with black-sounding names, even when all job-related qualifications and credentials are the same.
White men with a criminal record are more likely to get a callback for an interview than black male job applicants who don't have a criminal record, even when all requisite qualifications, demeanor and communication styles are the same.

White women are far more likely than black women to be hired for work through temporary agencies, even when the black women have more experience and are more qualified.
That middle stat in particular blows me away. You’re more likely to get an interview if you’re a white male criminal than a black male citizen.

I think for white people, the reason white privilege is uncomfortable is that we don’t want to think of ourselves as racist, or benefitting from the effects of it. But it’s easy to be biased without even realizing it, and the stakes are too high for us to ignore the fact that we are part of the fabric of this country in which we live. The fact is, progress happens faster when those of us who are advantaged acknowledge that, then fight like hell alongside everyone else to get to the day when we’re not.

So let’s all be mindful of our biases, particularly those of us in the privileged majority. Especially for those in a hiring capacity, whether a recruiter, the leader of a startup, or a restaurant manager -- be conscious. Consider your tendencies. Stay aware. Because the new hires and promotions of today are the managers, CEOs and role models of tomorrow. We can all be part of a virtuous cycle.

Racism and police brutality are not the ‘fault’ of all white people just as male sexual harassment of women is not the ‘fault’ of all men. However, it is our collective responsibility -- and opportunity -- to change things. We’re only going to 'solve' women’s rights by working with women and men, and we’re only going to get to equality for all races by having all races participate.

In other words, it’s not a ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘brown’ problem. It’s our problem.

I’ll be bringing my privileged ass with me as we work to fix it. 


Oh please Mr. President. Grow up!  Stop being so damn petulant and defensive and above all GET A CLUE.  It's hopelessly INFANTILE to react to clearly warranted criticism and continued public scrutiny of you and your administration on this issue in such a brazen self serving manner. "Why bother?" in this context is the churlish egocentric response of someone who suffers from the delusion that American racial history is not what it so clearly is—and remains-- whether any of us like it or not.  Please be aware here that "any of us" also includes YOU Mr. President... 

BTW: "In the aggregate" is a slyly evasive rhetorical phrase at best.  You should be aware that when you talk like this you sound not like a statesman or national leader but a mere HACK POLITICIAN....


December 22, 2014   
First Draft
New York Times

As Racial Tensions Grow, the President Is Asked to Speak Up

When asked on Friday about racial issues during his end-of-year news conference, Mr. Obama replied, “Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.”

Mr. Obama has declined to respond directly to African-Americans who have said in recent weeks that they’d like to hear more from him on the topic.

“If critics want to suggest that America is inherently and irreducibly racist, then why bother even working on it?” he told reporters on Friday.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Relentless Persistence And Deadly Resilience of White Supremacy In the U.S. in the Arts, In Our Politics, And In Our Daily Lives


Be it the arts or politics or just everyday life the venal doctrine and practice of WHITE SUPREMACY in the United Hates NEVER SLEEPS.  It's on its evil mission 24/7/365 no matter who or what it tries to hurt or destroy and its slimy PROPAGANDA never ends.  Can I get a witness?...


Sony Execs Were Warned Not to Cast Denzel Washington Because Black Leads Flop Overseas

In a leaked email, an unnamed producer warns a Sony executive about casting Washington as a lead because of racism.

By Yesha Callahan
Dec. 18 2014
The Root

For the last two weeks, Sony has been dealing with the backlash that’s occurred since the emails of high-level executives were hacked and released. From emails calling Kevin Hart a whore to racist comments regarding President Barack Obama’s movie tastes, it’s safe to say that some of these executives are having the worst month ever.

But it’s not over, not by a long shot.

In recently released emails discovered by Radar Online, a Sony executive was on the receiving end of emails from a producer who warned the studio about casting Denzel Washington, stating that Washington should not be cast in films that will be played overseas because he’s black, so they’ll flop.

According to Radar, a producer, whose name was removed from the emails, sent the concerns to Sony Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton. In the emails, the producer suggested that Sony not cast black actors in films with an international market. “No, I am not saying The Equalizer should not have been made or that African-American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation),” the producer stated in the email.

“I believe that the international motion-picture audience is racist—in general, pictures with an African-American lead don’t play well overseas,” the producer wrote. “But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent-size budgets.”

Ironically, The Equalizer went on to make $191 million at theaters worldwide, and almost half of the ticket sales were international.

Unlike the previous Sony emails, it’s unknown whether Lynton shared the same sentiments as the unnamed producer. But I’m sure it’ll be only a matter of days before this unnamed producer is actually named.
For more of black Twitter, check out The Chatterati on The Root.

Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Denzel Washington blacklisted? Producer says racist foreign moviegoers a reason to reconsider black actors, Sony email hack alleges

'The international motion picture audience is racist' a producer claims in a shocking Sony email leaked by North Korea-backed hackers, The mail was part of a pitch to drop two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington from future starring film roles.

by Jason Molinet
Friday, December 19, 2014

New York Daily News

“The Equalizer” – and equality – are under fire.

An unnamed producer questioned whether two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington should be cast in films dependent on foreign box office returns because those moviegoers are racist.

That’s the latest damning Sony email leaked by North Korean-backed hackers after Washington’s role in “The Equalizer” grossed a hefty $191 million worldwide, but fell short of total ticket sales overseas, Radar Online reported.

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas,” the producer wrote not long after “The Equalizer” debuted Sept. 26. “But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets.”

The producer sent the email to Sony Chairman Michael Lynton, suggesting the motion picture company avoid black actors such as Washington to appease international markets, according to Radar Online.

'The Equalizer,' which starred Denzel Washington, saw 47 percent of its ticket sales come from overseas versus an expected 65 percent return, something an unnamed producer attributed to racism in an email leaked by hackers.  

The Equalizer,' which starred Denzel Washington, saw 47 percent of its ticket sales come from overseas versus an expected 65 percent return, something an unnamed producer attributed to racism in an email leaked by hackers.

“The Equalizer” saw 47 percent of its ticket sales come from overseas versus an expected 65 percent return, something the producer attributed to racism.

“No, I am not saying ‘The Equalizer’ should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation),” the producer wrote, according to Radar Online.

But casting black leads in films is sure to limit profits, the producer noted.

“Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works,” the unnamed producer said, using a baseball term to hit home his point. “He’s reliable at the domestic (box office), safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe whenever possible the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside and be made for the right price. Here there isn’t a large inherent upside.”

No Licensing in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
  Clemens Niehaus/Geisler-Fotopres Denzel Washington, a Mount Vernon native, has appeared in 43 films that have grossed a combined $2.2 billion.  

The 59-year-old Washington, a Mount Vernon native, has appeared in 43 films that have grossed a combined $2.2 billion.

Follow on Twitter @jmolinet

Darren Wilson Wasn't the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off the Hook

By Flint Taylor, 
In These Times | News Analysis
December 19, 2014

A sign at the "Ferguson to Madison" Movement, a silent vigil was held for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many more. (Photo: Kaitlyn Veto)

The Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown is heartless but unsurprising. But it is important to place the case in context with the history of police violence investigations and prosecutions in high profile cases—and the systemic and racist police brutality that continues to plague the nation. In doing so, there are lessons for the movement for justice in the Michael Brown case, as well as for those who are engaged in the broader struggle against law enforcement violence.

What follows, then, is a brief history of similar high profile cases where public outrage compelled the justice system to confront acts of racially motivated police violence—with, to say the least, less than satisfactory results.

Over the past 45 years, Chicago has been a prime example of official indifference and cover-up when it comes to prosecuting the police for wanton brutality and torture.

On December 4, 1969, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain in a police raid that implicated the Cook County State's Attorney and the FBI's Cointelpro program. A public outcry led to a Federal Civil Rights investigation. Despite finding that the raiding police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, the Grand Jury in 1970 did not indict, but rather issued a report that equally blamed the police perpetrators and the Panther victims.

Outrage at this decision led to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor who, in the face of extreme official resistance, obtained an indictment against the police and the State's Attorneys who planned and executed the raid—not for murder and attempted murder, but rather for obstruction of justice.

The case came to trial in front of a politically connected judge who dismissed the case without even requiring that the charged officials put on a defense. Again, the outrage, particularly in the African-American community was so extreme that the chief prosecutor, Edward V. Hanrahan, was voted out of office a week after the verdict was rendered in 1972.

The Jon Burge police torture scandal provides another stark example. Evidence that had been unearthed over the years demonstrated that a crew of predominately white Chicago police detectives, led by Jon Burge, tortured at least 120 African-American men from 1972 to 1991.

Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley was tendered powerful evidence of this torture as early as 1982, but did not investigate or prosecute Burge and his men. Daley's office continued to use confessions tortured from the victims to send scores of them to prison—10 of whom went to death row, though they were later saved by a death penalty moratorium in 2000 and by a grant of clemency in 2003 by then-Governor George Ryan—during the next seven years.

In 1989, the local U.S. Attorneys' office declined to prosecute, as did the Department of Justice in 1996 and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine for the five years directly thereafter. In 2001, due to continuing public pressure, a politically connected Special Prosecutor was appointed to investigate the torture. But after a four year, $7 million investigation, he too refused to indict, instead issuing what is widely considered to be a whitewash report that absolved Daley, Devine, and numerous high Chicago police officials.

Finally, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney indicted Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, and he was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. However, the U.S. Attorney has subsequently declined to prosecute Burge's confederates for similar offenses.

New Orleans

Chicago is by no means an isolated example of how difficult it is to obtain justice for wanton police violence through the judicial system. In New Orleans, a crew of white detectives responded to the killing of a white police officer in 1980 by terrorizing the black community of Algiers, killing four innocent people and torturing numerous others by "booking and bagging" them: beating suspects with telephone books and suffocating them with bags over their heads.

Seven officers were indicted by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations arising from the torture of one of the victims and three were convicted. No officers were charged for the four killings or for the other acts of torture.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an NOPD officer fatally shot an unarmed black man named Henry Glover, then several of his fellow officers burned his body to cover-up their crime. NOPD officers also shot and killed two unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge.

After state authorities botched their investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicted the officers involved in the two cases and obtained convictions of some of the main police actors. However, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the verdict in the Glover case, and the trial judge, citing government misconduct, took the extraordinary step of granting the convicted officers a new trial in the Danziger case.

New York

In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted a Haitian-American man named Abner Louima in a precinct station bathroom by shoving a broken broomstick up his rectum. Louima's attacker was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations, while three of his police accomplices were charged with covering up the crimes.

After Louima's attacker pleaded guilty, his accomplices were convicted, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the lawyers who represented the officers had a conflict of interest. After they were convicted a second time, the Appeals Court again overturned their convictions—this time on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of intent.

In 1999, four officers from the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was reaching for his wallet, hitting him 19 times. The officers were indicted for second degree murder and the case was moved to upstate New York, where a jury acquitted the officers.

In July of this year, NYPD officers arrested an African-American man named Eric Garner, allegedly for selling untaxed cigarettes. They put a prohibited chokehold on him, forced him to the ground face first with his hands behind his back, and shoved his face into the pavement, where he died a few minutes later of a heart attack. The deadly assault, which was captured on videotape, is now under investigation by a Special Grand Jury empaneled by the District Attorney's Office.

Los Angeles

Among the most notorious cases was the brutal 1991 beating of Rodney King by five LAPD officers. A videotape captured most of the brutality and also showed several other officers standing by and doing nothing to stop the pummeling of a defenseless black man.

Four officers were charged at the state level with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The trial was moved to a predominantly white suburban county, and three of the officers were acquitted of all charges, while the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and other lesser charges. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on his use of excessive force.

After an angry uprising in the Africa- American community of Los Angeles that left 53 dead and around 2,000 injured, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the four officers, and a federal jury convicted two of them, while acquitting the other two.

This past August, LAPD officers fatally shot an unarmed mentally ill African-American man named Ezell Ford, who witnesses said was shot in the back while lying on the ground. Despite massive protests, there has been no grand jury investigation to date, the autopsy report is yet to be released, and the LAPD has not completed its investigation.


In Oakland, California in the late 1990s, a unit of police officers dubbed the "Rough Riders" systematically beat, framed and planted narcotics on African Americans whom they claimed were dealing drugs. Four of the "Riders" were indicted by the District Attorney's Office, and the trial was moved to a suburban county. The ringleader fled the country, and was tried in absentia.

After a year-long trial before a bitterly divided jury on which there were no blacks, the officers were acquitted of eight charges, and the jury was hung on the remaining 27 counts. At the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the officers were not re-tried.

Also in Oakland, in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009, a BART officer shot and killed a young black man named Oscar Grant, who was lying face down, unarmed, in a busy transit station. The shooting was videotaped, and led to militant protests in Oakland.

Another jury with no black members rejected the charge of murder and instead found the officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As a result, Oscar Grant's killer spent less than a year behind bars. The Department of Justice subsequently opened a civil rights investigation, but no charges were brought.


From 2007-2012 in Milwaukee, a unit of white police officers, spurred on by the Department's CompStat program of aggressive policing, stopped and illegally body cavity searched more than 70 African-American men whom they claimed to be investigating for drug dealing. In conducting these searches, most commonly performed on the street, the searching officer reached inside the men's underwear, and probed their anuses and genitals.

After this highly illegal practice came to light, the unit's ringleader, Michael Vagnini, was indicted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney on numerous counts of sexual assault, illegal searches, and official misconduct, while three of the other unit officers were also charged for participating in two of the searches. The unit's sergeant and several other members of the unit, all of whom were present for many of the searches, were not charged.

The charged officers were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of official misconduct and illegal strip searches, with Vagnini receiving a 36-month sentence while the other three received sentences that totaled, collectively, less than a month in jail. By pleading guilty, they also received promises that they would not be charged with federal civil rights violations.

Pattern and Practice Investigations

These high profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases where racist police violence has not been subjected to equal justice under the law.

Recently, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Little Rock, Arkansas, officers who shot and killed Eugene Ellison, an elderly African American man who was walking out of his home with a cane in his hand, while there have been documented reports of unarmed black men recently being shot down by the police in Chicago; Houston; San Antonio; Beaver Creek, Ohio; and Sarasota, Florida.

In 1994, the United States Congress, recognizing that police misconduct and violence was systemic in many parts of the country, passed 42 U.S. Code Section 14141, which empowered the Justice Department to file suit against police departments alleging patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct, and to obtain wide ranging court orders, consent decrees, and independent monitors in order to implement reforms to those practices.

Although understaffed, the Pattern and Practice Unit of the Justice Department has attacked systemic and discriminatory deficiencies in police hiring, supervision, and monitoring in numerous police departments over the past 20 years. A particularly egregious act or series of acts of police violence often prompts the Unit to initiate an investigation, and its lawyers have obtained consent decrees or court orders in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, Ohio, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Oakland, and Miami.

Last month, lawyers handling the Little Rock cases requested that the DOJ do a pattern and investigation of the LRPD, and the Unit is reportedly now investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department. While these investigations are not a panacea, they offer a mechanism for exposing and reforming blatantly unconstitutional police practices, and have also demonstrated how pervasive the problem systemic police violence continues to be.

In light of this history, the pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

Just two weeks ago, the Brown case, along with the Burge torture cases, was presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The movement should now turn its attention to the Department of Justice, demanding a federal civil rights indictment against Wilson a full scale pattern and practice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, and, more broadly, an end to systemic and racist police violence.

As the history of the battle against racist police violence so pointedly teaches, the public outcry and agitation must continue not only in Ferguson but across the nation. Because as Frederick Douglas rightly stated many years ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source. 
Flint Taylor is one of the lawyers for the families of slain Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and together with his law partner Jeffrey Haas was trial counsel in the marathon 1976 civil trial. For more information on the Hampton/Clark case, the history of Black Panther Party, and the FBI's Program to destroy it, visit

White House Refuses to Meet With Grieving Black Mothers Whose Sons Were Executed by Cops

By Dr Marsha Coleman-Adebayo and Kevin Berends
Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed
December 10, 2014 
DC Vigil For Delegation Of Grieving Mothers. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian)

"The women will come to Washington to advocate for changing existing laws that provide legal loopholes that allow police to kill their children with impunity."

With Washington reeling from the spontaneous uprisings against police terror that continue nationwide, the Obama administration announced the formation of a commission to investigate police terror against African-American communities and especially its men and boys. Not since the 1960's civil rights movement has the country experienced a popular uprising that cuts across this broad a spectrum of American society's racial and generational barriers. Only two years shy of leaving Washington, the Obama Administration has finally moved to address the most fundamental social and political crises beleaguering the African-American community: police brutality and mass incarceration.

Yet the president's choice of former DC police chief, Charles Ramsey - "known for leading repeated bloody and abusive crackdowns on protesters when he was Washington, D.C.'s chief a decade ago, according to a civil rights attorney who won millions in damages for 100s of citizens attacked by D.C. police" - as his choice of to head the commission is shocking. Ramsey is the unintended - but perfect - symbol for just how tone deaf and removed from reality the administration is.

Lead by cheerleader-in-chief, Rev. Al Sharpton, the administration was forced to quickly convene a roundtable of hand chosen "representatives" after a Staten Island grand jury did not bring an indictment against the white police officer who strangled unarmed black Eric Garner to death. The Staten Island decision came exactly one week after a similar grand jury procedure and finding in Ferguson, Missouri, of no indictment against white police officer Darren Wilsson for killing unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, in August. That decision sparked protests in over 170 cities nationwide.

With the White House in chaos, Attorney General Eric Holder was dispatched Monday, December 1, to Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta—the symbolic "desk" of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—to quell growing dissent and to prepare the masses for the inevitable decision by the DOJ not to seek civil rights indictments of Ferguson police officer/slave patroller Darren Wilson, the murderer of Michael Brown or New York police officer/slave patroller David Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner.

"The Coalition is committed to sustained actions around the DOJ and its leaders until indictments are rendered."

The lofty symbolism of Ebenezer Baptist Church—at such a moment of racial crisis—was lost on the Administration. But neither Mr. Holder nor the White House could have predicted that the ordinarily sedate audience at Ebenezer would erupt chanting, "Hands-Up Don't Shoot!" and "We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!" The protestors forced Mr. Holder to halt his bland litany of Obama's accomplishments. After making their dramatic point the activists peacefully left the church to the applause of many who had come to hear the Attorney General.

Activists in the Washington, D.C. area under the umbrella of #DC and led by Kymone Freeman, Program Director, We Act Radio; Eugene Puryear, a recent candidate for the Washington, DC Council At-Large seat active anti-war and social justice organizer; Salim Adofo, National Vice Chairperson, National Black United Front and Kenny Nero, Howard University librarian, activist and organizer have mobilized thousands of young people to march, rally and occupy commercial areas of the capitol.

The has organized weekly demonstrations in front of the Department of Justice demanding immediate indictments of police officers/slave patrollers involved in the deaths of unarmed African-American boys and men. This week's action will feature nine African-American women who have lost family, loved ones and sons to excessive police violence. These grieving women will grace our capitol from December 9-11, (December 10 coinciding with International Human Rights Day) with their personal stories of courage and resilience in the face of police executions of their boys and men while the US government looked away. The Coalition is committed to sustained actions around the DOJ and its leaders until indictments are rendered.

Ella Baker, founder of the Student Non-violent Student Coordinating Committee (SNCC) said of the attacks against black boys and men: "Until the killing of black men, black mother's sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens."

"Neither Mr. Holder nor the White House could have predicted that the ordinarily sedate audience at Ebenezer would erupt chanting, 'Hands-Up Don't Shoot!' and 'We Have Nothing to Lose but Our Chains!'"

The mothers, representing a cross-section of black communities from California to Baltimore, will participate in a community town hall, a vigil in front of the Department of Justice and congressional visits. At the ninth hour, the Department of Justice has agreed to an office visit between the mothers and the Office of Civil Rights. The Grieving Mothers Action is being hosted by CODEPINK, the Hands Up Coalition DC and Mothers Against Police Brutality. The women will come to Washington to advocate for changing existing laws that provide legal loopholes that allow police to kill their children with impunity. The mothers advocate effective civilian reviews of police misconduct; transparency in investigations of police officers; a comprehensive public national-level database of police shootings; and significant reforms to the 1033 program and other federal programs that equip police departments with military gear.

Despite thousands of calls and e-mails, neither President Barack Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder have agreed to meet with the mothers of these slain boys and men. While the President's and Attorney General's deaf ears are consistent with the choice of Charles Ramsey to lead the Commission and their misreading of the public at Ebenezer Baptist Church, it is hard to understand how the two chief law enforcement officers in the country can ignore grieving mothers of victims of the very system that has brought so much turmoil into the American street.

The Hands Up Coalition DC urges the president and attorney general to come out of their protective bubble and open their hearts and minds to the pain and message these grieving women represent. The president should withdraw the appointment of Charles Ramsey—out of respect for the damage Chief Ramsey's style of policing has inflicted on thousands of Americans nationwide. The president should also instruct the Attorney General to drop the charges against Rasheen Aldridge, the Ferguson teenaged-activist who expressed disappointment with the process after meeting with the President in the White House.

The December Black Mothers meeting will pave the way for a larger gathering in Washington DC on Mothers Day 2015.

"Neither President Barack Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder have agreed to meet with the mothers of these slain boys and men."

The mothers will tell their stories and advocate for changing existing laws that leave families vulnerable to police brutality and accountability loopholes.

"I'm coming to DC for several reasons," said Reverend Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, who was killed in Oakland, California on January 1, 2009. "First, I want to get the laws changed about racial profiling. Second, I want to change the law that allows the District Attorney to try the indicted officer, which I believe is a conflict of interest. Third, I want officers to have to wear body cameras. Lastly, I want officers to be trained not to shoot to kill."

"Our politicians have been epic failures in protecting our families. We have laws that protect policeman, but no laws that protect our families when someone is killed," said Colette Flanagan, the founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality who is traveling to DC from Dallas, Texas. "Our elected officials often turn a blind eye to the killing of our children, so now we are taking our grief to their doorstep in Washington DC. They need to understand that our families are real, and that our sons—who were taken away from us so unjustly–– matter."

Delegate Biographies:
Valerie Bell is the mother of Sean Bell, a 23-year-old unarmed man killed on his wedding day, November 25, 2006, in a barrage of 50 shots fired into his car by New York plainclothes police officers. The officers thought his friend had a gun. The detectives involved in the shooting were eventually acquitted. Valerie Bell is the founder of Mothers of Never Again (MONA), and after 8 years she has finally recorded her thoughts in a book coming out in 2015 called Just 23 (Thoughts from a mother in spoken word by Kisha Walker).

Jeralynn Blueford from Oakland, California started the Justice4AlanBlueford Coalition on May 6,2012 after her 18 year-old son Alan Blueford was shot and killed by a police officer in East Oakland. From there The Alan Blueford Center 4 Justice was established in Oakland, California, as a place to help heal the community. They offer our resources to help restore the community as they struggle against police brutality. She also organized Helping Heart 2 Heal, a conference to inspire, empower, and restore healing for mothers that are suffering with the pain of losing their children and loved ones.

Darlene Cain is a mother from from Baltimore, Maryland. On October 28, 2008, her 29-year-old son Dale Graham was killed by a Baltimore City police officer. Since then she has been dedicated to lifting the voices of those who have had a family member killed by the police but were never given true justice and closure. She is is President and founder of Mothers on the Move.

Danette Chavis, from New York City, lost her 19-year-old son in October 2004. After being shot in a gunfire exchange (not with police), Gregory Chavis died just a block from Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx when police prevented him from receiving any medical treatment. Chavis has been active at demonstrations and is the head of National Action Against Police Brutality. She has launched a petition, now with over 18,430 signatures, that demands national action against police brutality and murder, for all families that have been brutalized and lost loved ones at the hands of the police.

Collette Flanagan, from Dallas, Texas, lost her only son when he was 25 years old on March 10, 2013. Clinton Allen was unarmed and shot 7 times by a Dallas policeman (once in the back), who has since been on administrative leave from the police force, without a gun or badge. Flanagan is founder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, which lobbies for change in police enforcement practices and accountability measures.

Marcella Holloman's son Maurice Donald Johnson was murdered by Baltimore police on May 19, 2012. She called an ambulance when her mentally ill son began to exhibit erratic behavior at a children's gathering. Since Johnson's episodic illness was registered in the police data base, Holloman expected they would take him to the hospital for treatment. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, the two responding officers entered Holloman's home where Johnson was sequestered and shot him three times. Since then, his mother has been active and outspoken against police brutality.

Wanda Johnson's son Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by transit Police Officer Johannes Mehserle at a train station in Oakland, California on January 1, 2009. Initially charged with second-degree murder, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Since the death of her son, Johnson has been active on the Board of Directors of the Oscar Grant Foundation, a resource for at-risk youth of all races who wish to turn their lives around in a positive way. A gospel minister and nation speaker, Johnson has made guest appearances on nationally syndicated television programs, universities and public forums to bring attention to injustices in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

Constance Malcolm is the mother of Ramarley Graham, who was 18 years old in 2012 when a New York police officer shot and killed him in his own home. Graham was suspected of carrying a gun in public, but no gun was found on him, in the bathroom he was shot in, or anywhere else in the house. Graham's 6-year-old brother and his grandmother witnessed the shooting. Constance Malcolm has since been a vocal advocate against police brutality and has been seeking justice for her son.

Tressa Sherrod is the mother of John Crawford III, a 22 year old who was shot and killed on August 5, 2014 by police in a Walmart in Ohio. A caller phoned police, accusing Crawford of brandishing a gun, when it was really an unloaded BB air rifle on a shelf, an item that is sold in the store. Surveillance footage shows major discrepancies between a 911 caller's account and what really happened. An Ohio grand jury decided not to indict the officer who was responsible for Crawford's death, and since then his mother has been pursuing justice.

The delegation is endorsed by the No Fear Coalition, Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Popular Resistance, World Beyond War, CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities, DC Campaign Against Police Abuse, UltraViolet and Defending Dissent.

Code Black Alert: Cleveland, Ohio
More than a hundred people packed a church in Cleveland, Ohio, for the memorial service of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy shot dead by police last month. Rice, who was in sixth grade, was killed after a 911 caller reported seeing the boy with what turned out to be a pellet gun, which the caller repeatedly said seemed fake. Video shows Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann fatally shooting Rice immediately after leaving his cruiser, from a distance of about 10 feet.

Code Black Alert: Brooklyn, New York

In mourning for 28 year-old Akai Gurley, shot by police in New York stairwell. Two police officers prepared to enter the pitch-black eighth-floor stairwell of a building in a Brooklyn housing project, one of them with his sidearm drawn. At the same time, Gurley and his girlfriend, frustrated by a long wait for an elevator, entered the seventh-floor stairwell, 14 steps below. In the darkness, a shot rang out from the officer's gun, and the young man below was struck in the chest and, soon after, fell dead.

Code Black Alert: Phoenix, Arizona

Rumain Brisbon, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Phoenix, Arizona, Tuesday night. In a string of cases involving unarmed black men dying at the hands of officers over the last several months, another incident hits news.

According to a report published by USA Today, an officer in Phoenix says he felt threatened by 34-year-old Rumain Brisbon, so he used lethal force. The encounter led to Brisbon being shot twice and dying from his gunshot wounds at a north Phoenix apartment complex.

Black Code Alert: Whistleblower

Senior officials at the Social Security Administration (SSA) tried to hide a damning report on a $300 million computer system that lawmakers have called a "boondoggle" in order to protect President Obama's nominee to lead the agency, a whistleblower claimed in an interview with

Producer Suggests Sony Not Make More Denzel Washington Films Because The World Is Racist, According to Hacked Email

by Christina Montford
December 18, 2014
Atlanta Black Star

Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer”

More hacked emails from Sony Pictures executives reveal an executive suggesting the company not use Black actors like Denzel Washington because the movies won’t appeal to foreign markets—while backhandedly complimenting him as “the best actor of his generation.”

These emails obtained by Radar Online are only the most recent in a string of correspondences posted by hacker group, Guardians of Peace, in protest of Sony’s newest movie The Interview. The emails were reportedly sent out just after the release of Washington’s most recent film The Equalizer. Written to Sony chairman Michael Lynton, the unidentified producer suggests that Sony should avoid casting Black actors in order to attract the international market, which the producer deemed to be racist.

He or she prefaced the email by saying that they hoped it wouldn’t be seen as “inappropriate or provocative.”

“No, I am not saying The Equalizer should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation),” the producer wrote.

“Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works,” the producer goes on, using baseball jargon. “He’s reliable at the domestic [box office], safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe whenever possible the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside and be made for the right price. Here there isn’t a large inherent upside.”

Though the film grossed $191 million at theaters worldwide, with half of the ticket sales coming from abroad, the producer still claims that Washington’s race is impeding the movie’s success.

“I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas,” the producer whose name was removed from the emails wrote. “But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets.”

The hackers also revealed offensive emails regarding the President and celebrities who adopt Black babies.

Sony pulled the Christmas release of the comedy about an attempted assassination of the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, after the hackers released a note that read:

“Warning. We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the SONY.”

“Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” said a spokesperson for the studio on Wednesday.

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