Tuesday, April 25, 2017

From The Final Call Newspaper

What's driving Black violence and deadly conflict?

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 25, 2017 - 1:26:08 PM

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Pennsylvania State Police investigate the scene where Steve Stephens, the suspect in the random killing of a Cleveland retiree posted on Facebook, was found shot dead Apr. 18, in Erie, Pa. Acting on a tip, Pennsylvania State Police spotted Stephens, 37, in Erie County, in the state’s northwest corner, and went after him. After a brief chase, he took his own life, authorities said. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos

CHICAGO—Every day Black communities are inundated with violence. Whether it’s heinous acts committed against one another, encounters with police, or simply watching television or listening to music.


Violence has almost become a subculture that Black people not only embrace, but in many ways, openly promote.

Of course, it helps to understand the root of the problem, which in an overwhelming number of Black communities—particularly in large cities—is almost always tied to abject poverty, substandard living conditions, poor or failing schools, general lack, and feelings of hopelessness and despair.

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This undated photo provided by the Cook County Sheriff’s Offi ce shows Vandetta Redwood. A federal jury returned a not guilty verdict Jan., 26, for Redwood, who was accused of supplying her teenage cousin with a gun authorities say the girl used to kill a 14-year-old rival after a Facebook feud over a boy in Chicago in 2014. Photo: AP/Wide World Photos
When those conditions exist, it creates a perfect storm for crime, and ultimately violence, to manifest themselves.


In recent weeks, several incidents have played out in the media where Black people seem to just snap and commit heinous acts of violence.

Are these incidents, and many others, proof that Blacks are prone to violence as the popular narrative goes? Or is there something deeper going on?

Mental health and the Black community
“The first thing we need to acknowledge is that as a people, we are in unspeakable pain,” Terrie Williams, noted author of the book “Black Pain” and staunch mental health advocate, told The Final Call. “There’s violence everywhere we turn and it’s very difficult to navigate how you move through the world. For Black people, there is so much pain and suffering and we haven’t been able to process it and get help because so many of us don’t believe in going to talk to a mental health professional.”

Black people, by and large, suffer through unspeakable amounts of both direct and indirect trauma. It’s also important to note that Blacks in America suffer from intergenerational traumas that have been passed down from the time their ancestors first set foot on the shores of this country.

On this very subject, Mental Health America wrote, “Historical adversity, which includes slavery, sharecropping and race-based exclusion from health, educational, social and economic resources, translates into socioeconomic disparities experienced by African Americans today. Socioeconomic status, in turn, is linked to mental health: People who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated or have substance abuse problems are at higher risk for poor mental health.”

Mental Health America also uncovered a number of staggering statistics relating to Black people as well. While 13.2 percent (45.7 million people) of the U.S. population is Black, 16 percent (6.8 million people) have a diagnosable mental illness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, found that Black people are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress as compared to Whites, are more likely to harbor feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and sadness than Whites, and Black people who live below the poverty line are three times more likely to report psychological distress compared to those living above poverty.

The most distressing finding is that while Black teenagers are less likely than White teens to die from suicide, they are much more likely than their White counterparts to make an attempt at taking their own life.
                    
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“One of the things I’m very aware of, and very much attuned to is that Black people really struggle with mental health issues,” Dr. Cynthia Grace, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Harlem, told The Final Call.


“There has definitely been an intergenerational transmission of trauma, and we’ve gotten to the point where the accumulation of violence has gotten really high.

“A lot of the mental health issues that we have in the Black community go unaddressed, and one symptom of that is crime and violence that we commit against ourselves. Also, the extremely high rates of suicide among young Black people between the ages of 14 and 25 has increased exponentially. So, what that says is there is a real loss of hope because people are less inclined to take their own lives if there is a sense that things can be better.”

Dr. Grace noted the reason mental health has such a negative stigma among Black people is twofold: The first is that Blacks are largely in denial about their trauma, and the second is Black people place such a high value on character, to discuss their problems with someone exposes vulnerability which makes Blacks uncomfortable. So, Blacks are prone to wearing masks to show the world that they’re okay, but on the inside, there is so much deep and troubling turmoil that the outward representation of that pain, oftentimes, is crime and violence.

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Purported video still of Steve Stephens killing Robert Godwin Sr. and sharing the video on Facebook. Photo: MGN Online
“Too many of us witness or experience something horrific, then we get up the next day and go to work or school like nothing ever happened,” said Ms. Williams. “So many of our people are traumatized to the point where they can’t really function normally. We try our best to hide our pain, and I’m of the opinion that there are many adults—and kids—who really need to see a therapist. How can you witness or experience a horrific act of violence, and then try to go to work or school and concentrate on what you’re doing? You can’t.”


“In the Black community, there is a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety, and what I’m seeing more of now is a lot of people are having panic attacks because they are dealing with so much trauma,” said Dr. Grace.

“Many Black people feel that craziness is a White thing,” Dr. Grace said. “There is also a feeling that seeing a therapist is a betrayal of their spirituality because it’s an indication that they aren’t strong believers in a higher power.”
Dr. Grace feels many Blacks don’t seek help because they’ve been conditioned to give all of their problems to God and let him work things out.

Violence as a public health crisis
In this country, the solution to crime and violence is to remove people from society by locking them up and throwing away the key. This, of course, disproportionately affects Black people who make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 35 percent of jail inmates and 37 percent of prison inmates, of the 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in this country.

Gun violence, in particular, has been labeled by the American Public Health Association as a legitimate public health issue.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one million total years of life are lost annually in the U.S. due to gun violence. Additionally, homicide by gun in this country is 25 times higher than that of other high-income countries comparable to the U.S.

However, more money is being pumped into the system every year for incarceration, as opposed to rehabilitation or even doing a deep and thorough study on the root causes driving the violence seen in Black communities, and how to reverse it.

“Back in the 1980s, the CDC started treating violence as a public health problem because they saw an uptick in intentional violence,” Dr. Obie Clayton, chair of the Clark Atlanta University Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, told The Final Call. “However, this can be traced back to the introduction of crack cocaine and increased drug use in the Black community, which triggered an increase in violence. But at the same time, you had this epidemic of mass incarceration in the ’80s when the prison population almost quadrupled. So, intentional violence is a problem in this country in general, but we have a disproportionate amount of it housed in the Black community. Also in the ’80s, we forgot that rehabilitation was the role of the criminal justice system and began viewing it as a punitive punishment system without offering any real help.”

“If people don’t treat you with compassion and instead, treat you as though you are inherently criminal, that further erodes your sense of hope in the sense that there is something you can do to make your situation better,” said Dr. Grace. “I was taught years ago that if people are more criminally oriented, there’s very little that you can do for them, and not even mental health care would be a viable solution. The only option for these people was jail or prison because they were not able to be rehabilitated. So, I think that mental health, as it relates to violence, is a huge public health issue that has gone completely ignored because we have been relegated as being nothing more than commodities. The system makes money off of the pain of Black people.”

“This goes back to Dr. Kenneth Clark’s work way back in the 50s and 60s. Being looked at as the worst that society has to offer gives you a negative self-esteem,” said Dr. Obie Clayton.
He added, “People see you walking down the street and they’ll go to the other side simply because you’re wearing a hoodie, or have cornrows in your hair. So, when you have to deal with that every day, it does something to you. W.E.B DuBois developed the famous concept of double consciousness, where you’re an American, but you’re Black, so you have to put on this image to survive in a society that views you as being inferior, unintelligent, criminally inclined and just second class. When you have to deal with that every day, you need a counselor. We all do.”
                    
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The purposeful dehumanizing and negative portrayal of Black people in society is the very reason Terrie Williams, in her sphere of influence, makes it a point to let people know they are loved and that someone cares about them


“Sometimes, when I’m just walking through Harlem, I see brothers and I just smile at them—especially the ones who are considered dark-skinned,” she said. “I do this because so many times they’re the ones who are more intimidating than others, whether it be White folks, Black folks, anybody. So, I want them to know that they matter, and that they’re loved.”

Another issue relating to violence and public health is what Dr. Grace refers to as vicarious trauma, meaning you don’t have to be a direct victim of violence to be traumatized by it.

“Psychologically, the exposure to so much violence weakens people, and a lot of times, they’re unaware of what they’re reacting to; whether it be a strong feeling of anxiety, or depression. They don’t recognize that it’s because a week ago, a neighbor or a friend, or just someone in the community where they live, died violently,” she explained.

This, of course, can be exacerbated by incidents such as when Steve Stephens in Cleveland, allegedly uploaded a video to Facebook of him shooting 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. on the sidewalk, for no reason. Or Vester Lee Flanagan in Virginia who shot and killed news anchor Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward during a live television broadcast.

Violence is often sensationalized on social media and in mainstream media because people are constantly inundated with such disturbing imagery and visuals.

This can have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, and even more troubling people may be unaware of its psychological impact.

Blacks are also statistically more likely to suffer death from gunplay. The Violence Prevention Center calls the gun deaths of Black teens and young adults a national and too often ignored crisis. “Our research shows the Black homicide victimization rate is four times the national homicide victimization rate, and more than six times the homicide victimization rate for Whites. Nearly 85 percent of Black homicide victims are shot and killed with guns. These facts are both appalling and unacceptable. An important part of ending the gun violence epidemic is to reduce homicides in the African-American community,” the center said.

In late March, the group   reported that Missouri had the highest Black homicide victimization rate in the nation with a rate of 34.98 per 100,000, which is more than double the national Black homicide victimization rate and more than eight times the overall homicide rate nationwide.

It’s annual study, “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States,” looked at 2014 homicide data, the most recent year for which comprehensive, federal national data was available.

“Each year this report reveals the devastating and disproportionate impact homicide, almost always involving a gun, has on Black men, boys, women, and girls in America,” said Violence Policy Center executive director Josh Sugarmann. “These deaths devastate families and traumatize whole communities. We hope our research will not only help educate the public and policymakers, but aid community leaders already working to end this grave injustice.”

In Missouri, there were 250 Black homicide victims in 2014, resulting in a homicide rate of 34.98 per 100,000. That year, the national Black homicide rate was 16.38 per 100,000, and the overall national homicide rate was 4.19 per 100,000.

For homicides in which the weapon used could be identified, 87 percent of the Black homicide victims in Missouri were shot and killed with guns, said the center. Nationwide, 83 percent of Black homicide victims were killed with guns, it added.

Black Americans make up 14 percent of the U.S. population but are victims of more than half of all gun homicides, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. On average there are nearly 12,000 gun homicides a year in the U.S., the group said.
                    
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Solving the violence problem?
There seems to be no easy fix to curbing the problem of violence plaguing the Black community. In the field of medicine, a popular solution is to treat people, especially young children, with prescription drugs to help them manage their emotions. But oftentimes, this does more harm than good.

“We have to treat the whole person, and you don’t see that happening,” explained Dr. Clayton. “Black youth—especially males—are more likely to be diagnosed as suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and are more likely to be medicated for those issues. So, what happens then? You have young boys in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, and sometimes even younger than that, being given medications for conditions they could’ve been talked through. We’re not giving them access to the treatment they really need, and we’re limiting them with what they can learn through these diagnoses, which makes them much more prone to drug use, unemployment and eventually, crime.”

When it comes to these misdiagnoses and the prescribing of certain drugs to Black people, Dr. Grace says this is no accident.

“So many Black children are diagnosed with ADHD and given drugs for it, but what’s missed is that what they’re going through could be signs and symptoms of depression,” said Dr. Grace. “But part of the issue with prescribing these ADHD medications to Black children is that it brings in a lot of money. I believe that this is symptom of professional neglect and racism. When they see our kids, they don’t think depression, they think ADHD; there’s something wrong with their brains.”

Dr. Obie Clayton feels too much emphasis is placed on the actual problem of Black violence, and not enough on what is causing it—which could potentially be a real key to reversing the problem.

“I’d like to see a renewed emphasis on revitalizing job opportunities for our young people,” he said. “We also need to come up with better modes of educating them that aren’t steeped in the tradition of the way education was done 50 years ago. We need to adopt new modes of active learning. One of the things we haven’t done is asked the younger people, what it is that they want because you’re not going to solve any problems if you don’t ask people what they need, and then try and give it to them.
“When people have lack of access to health care, goods, services, housing and opportunity, those are the real problems that contribute to violence. But somehow, interpersonal violence is always viewed as the main issue and I tell people all the time, that’s not the number one issue. The number one issue is being able to take care of your family and having a real opportunity to do so, which is where it all starts.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

From The Final Call Newspaper

Police force or occupying force?

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 18, 2017 - 1:03:31 PM

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Ugly encounters between Blacks and police officers seem to be the rule, not the exception—even when community groups are trying to do good. But an occupying force mentality creates friction, feeds anger and promotes clashes with law enforcement say activists.

CHICAGO—The New Era movement, founded in Detroit back in 2014, was created out of a deep understanding that Black people—particularly men—must stand up, be accountable and take control of their communities.
 
Members of New Era Chicago and New Era Detroit recently descended on the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side to kick-off the year’s first "Hood2Hood" event. They go into Black neighborhoods picking up trash and spreading positive messages of love and empowerment in the streets. 

"We don’t do this because we’re accusing the people who live in these communities of being lazy," Sis. Mina, who serves as the director of media and marketing for New Era Chicago, told The Final Call. "We understand the psychology and pathology of what’s behind the condition of our people within our communities." 

For three hours, a contingent of roughly 50 men, women and children, walked through Englewood April 3 carrying Pan-African flags and spreading messages like, "Black love. Black pride. Black unity. Race first." They also passed out literature about services and resources that could benefit residents. 

Hood2Hood cleanups have been received in an overwhelmingly positive manner, said the New Era groups. 

"The worst someone will say is, ‘I like what y’all are doing but I can’t walk with y’all because I don’t want y’all to get shot,’ " said Oya Muuzic of New Era Chicago. "But when we come out, we get nothing but love and positivity because we’re spreading nothing but love and positivity to our people." 

"Sometimes we’ll have someone that when they see us coming, they’ll walk away because we have our own media people out there recording the event, and they’re scared of the camera and they don’t want the attention," said Eric Mobley, one of New Era Chicago’s leaders and chief organizers. "But when we’re out there talking about peace, love, Black unity and Black power, even the roughest, most thugged out people on the block, they’ll receive it. Everybody agrees that our message is correct and whether they move in that direction or not, they know that what we’re talking about is absolutely right and a key part of the salvation for our people." 

One of the primary tenets of the Hood2Hood initiative is not to engage with police in any way that is disruptive to New Era’s work. 

"That message is really for those who volunteer to go out with us because some of our people are incredibly zealous, angry, and they don’t know how to conduct themselves to just be disciplined and do the work," Mr. Mobley explained. "Some like to get into shouting matches and debates with the police, and I just wanted to instruct them and let them know that’s not what we’re out here for." 
                    
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Activists engage in community clean-up. Photos: @NewEraChicago1/Twitter

Hood2Hood Aftermath 
While in Englewood, New Era was followed by Chicago Police Department vehicles who kept their distance, but monitored what was going on. At one point, a CPD sergeant got out of his vehicle and praised the group for their efforts while pretending to pick up trash himself, said activists.  

"The police officer who was picking up the trash was a Latino gentleman," said Ms. Muuzic. "He actually motioned to another police vehicle to fall back and let us go on doing what we were doing, but they were obviously preparing to meet us on the other end. And if you watch him in the video, the Latino officer always has this consistent smirk on his face. He was the one who actually started what happened by acting as if he was helping us, but then went back to his car and called for more police backup." 

When they regrouped back on 63rd St. and Ashland in a vacant lot on the Southwest corner of the street, there was already a heavy police presence at the intersection and the air was thick with tension. Members of both New Era groups felt police were there to antagonize them, not engage in any peaceful encounter.  

"By the time we got back to 63rd and Ashland at the end, there may have been six or seven squad cars there," recalled Mr. Mobley. "But before I knew it, there was more cars and like 30 or 40 officers out there and things just escalated." 

In video, you see police telling people to stay on the sidewalk, which they were. But within a matter of seconds, the scene went from peace to utter chaos and violence. The police justified their actions by saying New Era was interrupting the traffic flow, but members say they weren’t in the street. 
"There was a cruiser immediately inside the vacant lot when we came back to 63rd and Ashland, and then two more pulled up to kind of block us in. There was never an opportunity for us to even be in the street," recalled Ms. Muuzic. "We never obstructed traffic. When they got there, they told us to get onto the sidewalk. The problem is they would get a little more aggressive each time they said it. In the video, I was standing next to Sis. Mina as she was stepping back from the curb and a female police officer grabbed her by the forearm and pushed her. You can hear me say to the officer that she didn’t have the right to put her hands on her, and the officer responded saying, ‘Yes I do.’ So, in the process of complying, even that wasn’t enough for them." 

Group members say video posted on Facebook clearly depicts members of the Chicago Police Department being the aggressors. Members of both New Era groups were physically assaulted by police with their hands, fists, elbows, knees, Tasers and batons. You can also hear police speaking in a derogatory manner and breaking and stepping on their UNIA Pan-African flags, which are red, black and green. The flags go back to the 20th century Black nationalist movement of the Hon. Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association. 

"When we were in the police station, the main officer who I believe kicked it all off, came in and said, ‘This ends today. We let you guys do this last year, but today it ends. Every time you come down the street with those f---ing flags, this is what you’re going to get,’ " said Mr. Mobley.  

The police didn’t discriminate as men, women and some of the children, fell victim to their attack. There is one scene where an officer in a red shirt is punching, kicking, elbowing and even kneeing the individual under the pile, who turned out to be a 15-year-old young man from Detroit. However, no one from New Era can recall any of the Black officers engaging in the same behavior as their White counterparts. 

"The Black officers were nowhere near as aggressive as the White officers. They were not aggressive at all," explained Mr. Mobley. "There was no tension between us and the Black officers and there never has been. When we’re out in the streets and the Black officers see us, they’ll ask what we’re doing, we’ll let them know, and they pretty much salute us. But with the White officers, they’ll mock us and you can see the disdain that they have for us in their eyes. But I think the Black officers are sympathetic to our cause and they know what it is we’re trying to do." 

All told, nine arrests were made, with four members of New Era Detroit charged with felony assault and detained for several days in the Cook County Jail while waiting to post bond amounts ranging from $30,000 to $50,000. 

But while in the jail, Zeek, founder of New Era Detroit, continued to do the work alongside his New Era Detroit brethren, adhering to their organizational motto of, "It don’t stop." 

"We got locked up on Saturday and stayed in the police station until they shipped us off to the county jail on Monday morning," said Zeek, who didn’t offer a last name. "Surprisingly, the brothers in Cook County [jail] knew who we were. They’d heard about some of the work we were doing in Detroit that made national news, and some were familiar with the Chicago chapter. We got really good treatment from our people, and if you know anything about us, when we get in there we’re gonna start talking. We’re gonna try and change that environment by lifting our people up and changing the narrative. We talked to a lot of the young kids in there, and there’s so many. It’s like the equivalent of 15 high schools. That’s how many young, Black boys are sitting in the Cook County Jail right now. 

"Some told us that they were working in the kitchen to try and make their bonds. They made like $2 an hour, which is taxed, and comes out to like .35 cents. It’s like modern day slavery in there. That’s the best way I can put it. The Cook County Jail is one of the worst county jails I’ve ever been in. It’s a plantation, but we got a lot of love from our people in there." 

The criminalization of Black organizations 
"At the end of the day, the police are a paramilitary force that occupies our communities to make sure that we stay in line," Kofi Ademola of Black Lives Matter Chicago told The Final Call. "They’re there to make sure that we don’t rise up or rebel. The police are the state’s first line of defense to keep us in our places. When you have a group like New Era talking about Black economic development and Black power, that’s problematic for the police." 

One would think that the police would be behind these kinds of movements as it lightens their load and makes their job easier. However, criminalizing Black men and women is big business, and any disruption to that is frowned upon by law enforcement, said some activists.  

"The strength and self-determination of these brothers and sisters in New Era gives the oppressor a look at free Black men and women desiring justice," said Jeffrey Muhammad, student minister in the Nation of Islam and member of the Justice or Else! movement. "To no longer use prior methods of civil disobedience and to have a look of Black nationalism brings fear to our former slave masters. Flying the flag of the Hon. Marcus Garvey—and not the U.S. flag—represents Black people, and brings out the mindset of White supremacy." 

The clash was not broadcast through the mainstream media and took almost two weeks to reach a larger audience, primarily through social media. New Era called the lack of coverage a deliberate "media blackout," and feels there is a very distinct reason for it. 

"They don’t want the Black liberation movement to swell the way we’ve seen happen in recent years," Sis. Mina explained matter of factly. "If you consider what has been going on since 2012 with cellphone videos capturing police assaulting and even killing unarmed Black men and women, you saw a huge protest movement take place across the nation and even around the world. It put the police on blast. It put racism on blast, and White Americans do not like being called racist, so they put the onus and blame on Black people. Anyone who tries to silence you about your personal experience in this country, because it makes them uncomfortable, that’s a racist act in itself because they don’t want to acknowledge or admit it." 

Added Mr. Mobley, "We know that there are a lot of industries and institutions that have been founded and thrive on our dysfunction. So, when we get to tampering with that by trying to preach unity and love among our people, we’re going to encounter some resistance." 

What’s next for New Era? 
The events on April 1, 2017 have made New Era more unified and enthusiastic about its work. 
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Some members of New Era Chicago.

In February, Zeek and members of New Era Detroit, with the assistance of Student Minister Troy Muhammad of the Nation of Islam’s Muhammad Mosque No. 1, had an opportunity to meet with Minister Louis Farrakhan who told them they are on the right path and would find people ready to help with their work.  

The Chicago Police Department said that the Independent Police Review Authority is investigating the events of April 1. They also said that they reached out to members of New Era Chicago to determine how both parties could work together in the future. 

The city police issued the following statement: "(The Chicago Police Department is) committed to working with residents to protect their First Amendment rights and ensure their safety as well as that of the surrounding community. As is practice, officers were monitoring the gathering throughout the duration of the event to ensure the safety of the participants and community, and that roadways remained clear for vehicle traffic. CPD has attempted to contact the group’s organizers to ensure future events remain peaceful and safe." 

The Chicago chapter of the National Lawyers Guild committed to providing legal support for the four New Era Detroit members charged with felonies and who will have to return to Chicago for their first official court date on Monday, April 24. 

"Them being charged with felonies falls on Kim Foxx’s office, and it’s going to be up to her to uphold justice," Mr. Ademola said of Mrs. Foxx, a Black woman, who is the newly elected state’s attorney in Cook County. "She needs to go over this case with a fine-toothed comb to see if these people’s civil rights were violated from the police using a law as a weapon against our people to suppress us."  

Another supporter is Pat Hill, a 21-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department who is now a police accountability advocate. She offered some helpful advice for New Era members on how to properly deal with the police moving forward. 

"Any gathering like that is going to be intimidating because as you can see, most of those officers in Englewood are White," Ms. Hill told The Final Call. "The best thing to do moving forward is to not get permission from the police, but to give them notification. Contact the community policing office and let them know they’re going to be doing a cleanup in whatever community they’ll be in. Now the department has been put on notice that people are planning to act out their constitutional rights. What you end up doing is flipping the script and end up making the police be your escort as opposed to your antagonizer." 

As for the future of the New Era movement, its members are committed to empowering Black people and building a true community.  

"New Era is a movement for the people," said Zeek. "It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or if you’re Muslim. It doesn’t matter what your belief is. As long as you believe in the betterment of Black people, then we can work together and we should be working together. What we’re doing is for all of us, not just ourselves." 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

From The Final Call Newspaper

'Trump foreign policy incoherent and quite dangerous'

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Apr 11, 2017 - 1:26:50 PM

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Protesters carry placards during a rally against the U.S. missile strikes in Syria, April 7, in New York. The U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria on April 6 night in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack against civilians earlier in the week. Photos: AP/Wide World photos

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Mounzer Mounzer, Deputy Permanent Representative for Syrian, addresses UN Security Council after strikes against the Shayrat Airbase in Syria. (R) Sacha Sergio Llorentty SolĂ­z, Bolivias UN envoy, questions U.S. credibility citing Colin Powells assertion of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when there were no such weapons. Photos: United Nations

Analysts warn against military action in Syria, its possible motivation and consequences

WASHINGTON—Just 11 weeks into his presidency, with his administration in a tailspin, faced with plummeting approval ratings, and suffocated by FBI and congressional investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russian intelligence agents, President Donald J. Trump changed the political subject by ordering a U.S. missile attack on Shayrat military airfield in Syria on April 6.
“United States intelligence indicates that Syrian military operating from this airfield were responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province, Syria that occurred on April 4.” Mr. Trump informed House Speaker Paul Ryan in a letter April 8.
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A crowd chants during a rally in opposition to the U.S. missile strikes in Syria, April 7, in Allentown, Pa. Allentown has one of the nation's largest Syrian populations. They are mostly Christian and support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The stage was set. Chinese President Xi Jinping was with the president, at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., for critical trade talks when Mr. Trump announced that a Tomahawk Cruise missile attack had been launched from warships in the Mediterranean, this without prior Congressional authorization, or notification.
With this military strike, just two months into his term, Mr. Trump demonstrated to his domestic detractors, to his Chinese guest, and to the world at large that he could take decisive—albeit potentially illegal—military action, while conducting delicate diplomatic affairs at the same time. Some in Congress complained.

“The U.S. strikes in Syria last night, conducted without Congressional authorization, represent a dangerous military escalation into the Syrian civil war and are without legal justification,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “But by illegally bombing a sovereign nation, President Trump has intensified an already dangerous and unstable conflict without a long-term strategy or an appropriate authorization from Congress.”

Mr. Trump claims it was the sight of dead babies on television which prompted him to reverse a pledge to stay out that was made just two days before the decision to strike. “Why didn’t sight of babies killed by U.S. bombs in Mosul (two weeks before) provoke the President to order a halt to the U.S. bombing, because “beautiful babies were being killed?” Phyllis Bennis, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies asked in an interview.


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(L) United States Permanent Representative to the UN and President of the Council for April; and Elbio Oscar Rosselli Frieri, Permanent Representative of Uruguay. (R) The representative of the Russian Federation speaking with Mounzer Mounzer. Photos: UN Photos

“It does sound like an emotional reaction that was later created around a useful strategic moment when we know we’re going to get a lot of support,” Ms. Bennis continued. “The ratings are down in the basement—ratings of less than 35 percent supporting Trump.

“In 2012 he said the same thing about President Obama. He Tweeted out: ‘Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin – watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate’ The notion that you can go to war in response to your best guess of who was responsible and your personal outrage about it is an abomination. What we’re looking at here is completely illegal action on the part of Trump,” said Ms. Bennis.

But why would this president “care about chemical warfare on children in Syria when children in Flint, Selma and Dothan are victims of state sanctioned chemical warfare from lead?” civil rights veteran Ruby Sales posted on social media, “He and his party has stood solidly for it,” Ms. Sales continued.

Dr. Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston, agrees. “Then there’s the legal question,” Dr. Horne said in an interview. “It violates the UN Charter. There was no question of self-defense, for example. The Congress in the United States has the right to make war, and certainly it violates the Constitution.

“You may recall in terms of chemical weapons, that Seymour Hersh, the independent journalist did an analysis of the August 2013 episode in Syria involving chemical weapons and came to the conclusion that it was fundamentally the rebels backed by their foreign allies. Given the fact that there has been no investigation of this episode, and given the fact that the Pentagon-witness Iraq—has oftentimes been wrong with regard to who has certain kind of weapons and how they were used.”

Others, outside of the Trump administration question the certainty that the chemical gas attack was actually carried out by Syrian government forces. “The prime minister of Canada just said, ‘We need a United Nations investigation,’ ” Ms. Bennis said.

“And the journalists pressed him, and he would not say ‘Obviously, the Assad government did it,’ because there’s nothing obvious about it. Certainly, it may have been the Assad regime, but there’s lots of evidence of why that may not have been either, so, we just don’t know yet,” Ms. Bennis continued.
“The U.S. government has a history of blaming other countries for the ‘mischief’ made by the United States,” the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said in Chicago Feb. 26, 2017 in Part 2 of his Saviours’ Day Address: “Have No Fear For the Future: The Future is Ours.”

“The foreign policy of our government is involved in ‘the meddling’ of the affairs of others. And yet, when they do this they will charge the other country with being ‘the peace breaker.’ The Holy Qur’an gives us insight into The Mind of an Enemy who is making mischief, then claiming that he is a “peace maker”—but he is, in reality, a Mischief Maker!”

The U.S., the Muslim leader pointed out, had long ago targeted seven Muslim nations as a part of the Pentagon’s scheme for “regime change in seven Muslim countries in five years. So the American government and Congress gave them money to destabilize that area of the world.” At one time the countries—including Iraq and Libya which have already been destabilized, as well as Syria, Sudan, and Iran—referred to themselves as “The Resistance and Steadfastness Front,” because they refused to recognize Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Mr. Trump’s decision to reverse his isolationist, “America first” views in favor of intervention into a civil war in a Middle Eastern country may have been intended for domestic consumption as well as international impact.

“Then there is the question of harming relations with Russia, which might be quite frankly at the heart of the matter,” said Dr. Horne. “As is well known, the investigators are on the trail of Mr. Trump because of his supposed pre-November 2016 ties to Moscow, and what better way to wrong-foot the investigators and throw dust in the eyes of the public, than to ruin relations, or at least to harm the relations with Moscow.

“Fundamentally the Trump foreign policy is incoherent, and more than that, is quite dangerous,” Dr. Horne continued. “Former critics are now applauding him. The liberal interventionists are happy, because they’re always happy when there’s a war going on, particularly if the conflict has Moscow on the other side of the table, in order to pump up Donald J. Trump’s plummeting poll ratings.”
It was also unclear April 10, at Final Call presstime, what the next U.S. steps would be in the conflict with Syria.

Such as how U.S. and Russian aircraft would coordinate strikes against ISIS in Syria and in Iraq and how the two sides would avoid any confrontation or error that could escalate tension between the two nations.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke strongly April 7 and in the days that followed, speaking of U.S. determination to act on its own while blaming Russia in part for the attack and calling for Moscow to cease its support for regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“For six years, the world has watched as the Syrian government and its leader, Bashar al-Assad, have terrorized its own people. It has murdered hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. It has broken international law and violated numerous UN resolutions. It has committed criminal acts that shock the conscience of all humanity. The international community has repeatedly expressed its outrage,” she said April 7 at the United Nations.

“Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it. He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night. … Now, while the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical weapons attack, it is not the only guilty party. The Iranian government bears a heavy responsibility. It has propped up and shielded Syria’s brutal dictator for years. Iran continues to play a role in the bloodshed in Syria. The Russian government also bears considerable responsibility. Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him. We had hoped the Security Council would move forward, but Russia made it known, as it has done seven times before, that it would use its veto once again, covering up for the Assad regime,” she said. “The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences. Those days are over. But now we must move to a new phase, a drive toward a political solution to this horrific conflict. We expect the Syrian regime and its allies to take the UN political process seriously, something they have not done up until this point.”

Meanwhile the government of Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, was among states that expressed support for President Trump’s actions. Israel also voiced its approval. “In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement. “Israel ... hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”

Meanwhile a slight majority of Americans voiced early approval of the military strikes because they believed the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime was immoral, according to a CBS News poll. But the poll added, there was reluctance for presidential pursuit of military action beyond the missile strikes, saying Congress should authorize any further actions.

“Few Americans are willing to see the U.S. get involved in Syria beyond the use of airstrikes. Only 18 percent would want ground troops. Half of Republicans would limit involvement to either airstrikes or diplomacy, and Democrats largely would focus on diplomatic efforts,” CBS News reported. (Final Call staff contributed to this report.)

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