From The Final Call Newspaper

Boycotts, Black Athletes And Activism

By Bryan Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Sep 26, 2017 - 12:44:27 PM

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Philadelphia Eagles players, owner Jeffrey Lurie, center right, Eagles' President Don Smolenski, second from left, and a Philadelphia police officer, third from left, stand for the national anthem before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sept. 24, in Philadelphia. Eagles' Malcolm Jenkins raises his fist next to Lurie. Photos: AP/Wide World photos

(L) New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman kneels in protest during the National Anthem. (R) Buffalo Bills players take a knee during the National Anthem in protest.

Protecting rights or profits? NFL owners on bended knee

Generally speaking, sports are seen as apolitical. Certainly, professional athletes and team owners have their own individual views and embrace political ideologies that don’t always align, but both parties can usually find a common goal in their desire to compete and win for their organizations, cities and fans.

Since being elected president, it’s become almost a weekly occurrence that Donald Trump says something that is attention grabbing that gets people talking. Mr. Trump has a knack—and a penchant—for getting under people’s skin with his abrasive rhetoric that has driven the wedge in the relationship between Black and White people in America, even deeper.

Since taking a knee during the National Anthem more than a year ago, Colin Kaepernick has consistently been on the radar of Donald Trump, and even more so now that athletes in the NFL, and in other sports leagues, have begun taking a knee in support of the movement started by Mr. Kaepernick.

At a September reelection rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange, Mr. Trump took another shot at Mr. Kaepernick, and others, in front of an all-White audience that seemed to hang on his every word.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Mr. Trump said to rousing applause. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”
Buffalo Bills fullback Mike Tolbert leaves the field after working out prior to an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sept. 24, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

The very next day, in a series of tweets, Mr. Trump attacked Stephen Curry, star of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors basketball team. It is customary, after a team wins a championship, to visit the White House and deliver a personalized jersey to the sitting president. However, Mr. Curry has publicly stated on several occasions that because he does not agree with the politics of Donald Trump, causing the president to rescind the invitation via Twitter—the very same day that as a team, the Warriors were planning to discuss whether or not they wanted to make the trip.
Both incidents created an uproar within the sports world—as well as the White House recently calling for the firing of Black female ESPN sports personality Jemele Hill for tweets calling Mr. Trump a White supremacist.

But the president’s Alabama tirade seemed to ignite special, widespread criticism, a call for solidarity with players under the hashtag #TakeTheKnee.

Despite outward shows of togetherness, the question must be asked: What are we showing solidarity for? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a statement regarding Mr. Trump’s comments, called them “divisive.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers, coached by Mike Tomlin, a Black man, stayed in the locker room while the National Anthem was being sung prior to their game against the Chicago Bears. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, locked arms with his players on the sidelines on Sunday as a show of support. The irony here was 28 of the NFL’s 32 owners, all donated money to the Trump campaign, including Mr. Snyder who gave $1 million initially, and another $100,000 after Mr. Trump won.

DeMaurice Smith, the Black executive director of the NFL Players Union, said, “This union will never back down when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of our players as citizens, as well as their safety as men who compete in a game that exposes them to great risks.”
Several New England Patriots players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sept. 24, in Foxborough, Mass. Photos: AP/Wide World photos

Seatlle Seahawks tweet statement from the team president.

Still, neither statement from Mr. Goodell, Mr. Smith, or the action by Mr. Snyder, even begins to address the “great risks” that Black men and women—who aren’t celebrities or famous athletes—face daily from the police, and the dog whistle political statements that served as inspiration for White groups to publicly assemble in Charlottesville, Va., not long ago. President Trump was very careful not to ostracize neo-Nazis and White rightest in Charlottesville by implying that not all of them were bad people, but he called athletes protesting Black oppression, SOBs.

“What a hypocrisy we live in,” said New York attorney and activist Kenneth Montgomery. “Black people being oppressed and shot at the hands of the state is just the tip of the iceberg concerning our continued social, political and economic alienation. It seems like the U-S-of-A has no place for us unless we are dead, incarcerated, cooning for acceptance or entertaining [White people].”
Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi warms up in a #imwithkap shirt before an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sept. 24, in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo: AP/ Wide World photos

Mr. Montgomery also told The Final Call, “This whole thing has become a spectacle. Colin Kaepernick kneeled to protest Black oppression. Now it’s being usurped by the very owners who blackballed him. Many of these athletes, and the owners, are actually protecting the NFL shield. They don’t give a damn about systemic oppression affecting Black people.”

Activist Tamika Mallory has one word to describe NFL owners taking a knee: “Disingenuous.”

“The reason why the protest started cannot be ignored,” she said. “It cannot be that you separate Colin Kaepernick taking a kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and other injustices happening to Black and Brown people, if the owners weren’t willing to kneel with him … to stand up against Trump is disingenuous to me.”

The owners don’t want to upset 70 percent of their players who are Black men, she continued. The activist added, the NFL owners’ statements and others have nothing to do with the original reason for the protests.

What the president said was outrageous but it’s in line with who he is, and was unsurprising, Ms. Mallory observed. The issue isn’t Mr. Trump or the National Anthem but “the idea that Black lives don’t matter in America,” she said. And, Ms. Mallory continued, the point of the Kaepernick protests was not everyone was enjoying life in the land of the free and home of the brave as touted by the anthem—which has never represented freedom for Blacks and people of color.

“They want to shift the conversation,” she said.  

Ms. Mallory has also not heard from the NFL following a protest outside NFL headquarters in New York. The New York Justice League, which includes Ms. Mallory, led the successful “United We Stand: Rally for Kaepernick.”
Reaction to the NFL player protests dominated social media.

During the rally, the activists called on the NFL to have a written policy that protects the right to player protests without retaliation, to have internal and external committees look at diversity, cultural sensitivity among a league with nearly all-White ownership and whether people of color were disinterested in ownership or locked out by a good ole boys network.

And while scholarships from the NFL are great, the league was called to join those addressing the school to prison pipeline, said Ms. Mallory.

And, she added, four years ago, she sat across the table from Mr. Goodell as Black women sought to have the league deal with the problem of domestic violence. There were also questions about where the NFL disperses $100 million to charity and whether some of the funding could go to addressing domestic violence and other violence in the Black community, Ms. Mallory said.

Perhaps, if the league had followed up and dealt with those issues as well as diversity and racial sensitivity, things would be at a different place, she added.

She also thanks an unlikely source for much of the renewed activism: Donald Trump.
“Trump is so unhinged that he basically is speaking to the private conversations that all these folks are having and their private thoughts,” Ms. Mallory explained.

Now people, including once-silent athletes, feel compelled to speak up or lose everything, she said. It’s uncomfortable, even scary, but it’s an opportunity, the activist noted.

Making public statements, not watching games, not purchasing paraphernalia or spending money with the NFL, using social media activism, and collectively keeping conversations alive have an impact, she said.

“It’s the beauty of Donald Trump being president,” she said. “We have been having these conversations.”

Rapper and activist David Banner has been very outspoken during the campaign and eventual election of Donald Trump. He argues Black folk should go even further. “The NFL has shown Black people that they don’t care about the death of our children. Why would we ever want to feed that machine our money and our support again?” Mr. Banner told The Final Call. “We need to leave people alone who don’t love us,” he said.
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)

From The Final Call Newspaper

A Proper Sendoff And Fitting Farewell To 'Baba' Dick Gregory

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: Sep 19, 2017 - 6:27:00 PM

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LANDOVER, Md.—Dick Gregory was a comedian, but he was so much more. He was a civil rights leader, but he was so much more than that. He was a health advocate, and more.
The many facets of Dick Gregory’s amazing 84-year-life were celebrated and praised over three days Sept. 15-17, with a funeral and a New Orleans-style “Second Line” parade by his family and a long list of celebrities including Stevie Wonder, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, comedian Bill Cosby, singer India Arie, and actor Joe Morton in attendance, along with political leaders, clergy members, human rights activists, and broadcasting personalities.

“We thank him for a life of sacrifice,” Mr. Gregory’s son Christian told the funeral at the City of Praise Family Ministries in suburban Landover, Md. “While we celebrate his life, we also acknowledge all of the suffering, all of the pain, and all of the glory.

“Obviously, losing a loved one is never easy, especially when that loved one is an absolute warrior, father, friend and husband. Everyone kind of feels like they lost their ‘Baba.’” Mr. Gregory continued using the affectionate Swahili word “Baba,” a title meaning “brother,” or  “father” which has been attached as an honorific to Mr. Gregory’s name for several years.
Audience at homegoing services for Dick Gregory.
“The amount of folks that have walked up to me, and without even saying anything, just crying and embracing me. And I just look at them and quickly realize that they realize, despite the fact  I have no earthly idea who they are, they know who I am. And I’m not conceited enough to think that that’s because they think I’m an amazing chiropractor, I’m crytstal clear, it’s because they realize who my father is … and who my mother is,” Christian Gregory said, predicting that the evening would amount to a proper send-off for “a legend.”

“Mr. Gregory had many titles: funny man, social activist, trail blazer, civil rights leader, health advocate, and author,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the funeral. “But it seemed that the title he relished the most was truth teller.”

“In the movement, we used to cry, and shout, and roar against racism,” D. C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “Dick did us one better. He made racism look absurd. With his brilliant, crossover talent, Dick even made White folks laugh at their own racism.” Mrs. Norton and Mr. Gregory were involved together in many civil rights and voting rights campaigns, up to and including the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s.

“He applied his direct, straight forward approach to life, to everything that he did,” said Mayor Bowser. “On the comedy circuit, he fused humor with plain talk. On the campaign trail, he spoke out against police brutality, and spoke up for criminal justice reform and for resources for substance abuse. And on marches for civil rights he gathered with countless others in defiance of segregation and in support of voting rights,” she said.

Like others, Mayor Bowser embraced Mr. Gregory in Washington, not his original hometown. “Here in D.C. we adopted Mr. Gregory as our very own. We loved him, and he loved us back.”
Casket of Dick Gregory during services held Sept. 16 at City of Praise Ministries. Photos: Final X

Choir sings a musical selection.

The three-day celebration of his life included a viewing at the Louis Stokes Medical Library on the campus of Howard University, the funeral, and a final parade from the historic Howard Theatre on U Street, where Mr. Gregory performed often as a stand-up comedian during his 55-year stage career, to the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl several blocks away where a new mural on its wall, depicting legendary D.C. icons, including Mr. Gregory was unveiled last month.

The 6-hour-long funeral—was necessarily long according to the Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church, because, “you can’t have a short celebration for a tall man.”
Many were moved by the various tributes.
Dr. Leonard Jeffries (right) attended services.

The service included remarks by the children of Brother Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Richard Pryor; a musical tribute by Mr. Gregory’s daughter Ayanna; a musical tribute by India Arie; remarks by the Rev. William Barber; a performance by Joe Morton from the one-man stage play ‘Turn Me Loose’ which depicts Mr. Gregory’s life; powerful words from Mr. Gregory’s family members; and remarks by former Congressional Black Caucus Chair, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).

All were gathered “to hear about the funny man, the straight man, who impacted our minds and impacted our hearts,” Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of slain Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers said at the funeral.

“He gave up a fortune to help Black people, what are you going to do?” Rep. Waters asked the audience. “Don’t come here today and say how much you love him and go to work tomorrow and skin and grin. It’s time for us to have courage to do what we need to do. Now is the time for us to have courage.”

“I wish I could sit and talk with Dick because I have work to do,” she continued, declaring that Mr. Gregory had liberated her, and that she has now “taken off the gloves,” and would spend the rest of her career fulfilling a mission. “Because I’m cleaning out the White House. I’m going to sanitize the White House,” she said.  Mr. Gregory was even a friend of Mrs. Waters’ mother in their original hometown St. Louis.

She also commended embattled comedian Bill Cosby, who was in attendance with his wife Camille. “I want to thank Bill and Camille Cosby,” Rep. Waters said to sustained applause. “Bill and Camille Cosby, they sent a tree that we planted for my mother, and that tree is flourishing on the lawn of the Gateway Center. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a politician. I’m not supposed to thank Bill and Camille Cosby. A friend in need is a friend indeed, and if you can’t stand with your friends when they need you, then you’re not worth your salt.”
Representatives from the Native American community paid tribute to Mr. Gregory. (R) Women applaud during program.

Bill and Camille Cosby (far right) in audience at Mr. Gregory's services in Landover, Maryland.

Dick Gregory imparted a deep spirituality, many speakers noted, although he was not at all a religiously bound person. He never professed to belong to any church, any mosque, or any synagogue. He was rooted to the boundless, universal God-force, according to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The biblical Jesus set out to “unite the whole of humanity into oneness with God, oneness with each other, and one community,” said Min. Farrakhan. “God ain’t bugged out by color. That’s the sickness of White supremacy, and it has nothing to do with Jesus.”

Mr. Gregory understood and applied his study to the “root of knowledge,” enabling him to “connect with all the branches,” Min. Farrakhan continued.

We are taught that we would be “one in Christ. Problem is, you’re not in him yet. That’s why Dick couldn’t join you. ‘Cause he’s trying to be one, not with religion, but one with the Universal King, the One God, Who created it all.”

“Faith produces works,” the Muslim leader said. “That was a man of faith. His faith made him, one of the greatest men of our time.”

The funeral concluded with a tribute concert by Stevie Wonder, joined on stage by Ayanna Gregory, daughter of Dick Gregory. “I am thankful for having lived in the time of Dick Gregory,” Mr. Wonder said before his performance. “All of my songs from 1999 until now are because Dick Gregory saved my life.”

Rockford man continues struggle to clear his name

by William P. Muhammad

Rockford, Ill. – Before the backdrop of 1990s policing strategies, the stereotyping and targeting of young Black Americans, and the impact of mass incarceration upon entire communities, the inevitability of local abuse converged with the arrest, first degree murder conviction, and now a scheduled retrial of Patrick Pursley, recently freed through his decades long persistence to expose a hidden truth, revealed the wide-ranging impact of racialized politics on local prosecutions and the general targeting of Black youth in the American criminal justice system.
Patrick Pursley and daughter Nija
            “I was locked up on this case in 1993 and I was gone 23 years,” Mr. Pursley said during an interview in his Rockford apartment. “There was what you call a quantum body of evidence that was either ignored, buried or neglected by the state’s attorney and with the ballistic photos, I basically generated my own evidence (and) I demanded that my lawyers get me a ballistic expert, and from that point on, that is what really saved my neck,” the now 51-year-old Mr. Pursley said.
            Explaining that it took nearly two and a half decades to seek answers alleging misconduct, if not an overzealous rush to judgment on the part of investigators and the prosecution, help from organizations such as Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions was vital in helping to argue his innocence and to present evidence for a retrial while adding that thinking of his children was the motivating force behind keeping up his fight for freedom.
            “The appellate court said we can’t grant you gun testing because the law doesn’t allow for it, the law only allows for DNA testing, so I set out to get the law amended and filed a suit against various governing officials,” Mr. Pursley said. “The same way you allow for DNA testing to establish actual innocence in a post-conviction petition, you should allow for gun testing and other forms of forensic testing,” he explained, while pointing out the names, supporters and organizations that took his ideas on forensic testing, published in the Statesville Speaks prison newsletter, and made into a bill for the state legislature that was signed into law on October 27th, 2007.
            Throughout the ups and downs of what would become an arduous 23-year battle to free himself from the nightmare of what Mr. Pursley called a wrongful life-without-parole prison sentence, family members likewise suffered in ways hidden from public view, deeply affecting them from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.
            Describing the difficulties of growing up without knowledge of her biological father and her need to have completion regarding her identity as a young person, Nija Pursley said she always felt different and out of place. “It is surreal and like something out of a movie that you don’t really imagine,” she said. “My mom kept it from me that he was my biological father until I was 11-years-old, so I didn’t really know anything about him until about 12 years ago, and I’m 23 right now,” Ms. Pursley said.
            With the advent of what Michelle Alexander identified in her landmark book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness in 2010,” and what is popularly labeled by activists as the ‘Prison Industrial Complex,’ Clinton Era policies of the 1990s, coupled with state and federal cuts to the social safety net, hamstrung entire communities and led to the scapegoating, targeting and overzealous policing and prosecution of primarily young Black men in nearly every municipality across the country.
            “When law enforcement is abusive or perceived as abusive, then the problems effect society in ways anticipated and unanticipated, and I think can result in a breakdown of law enforcement’s ability to protect the citizens that they are tasked with protecting,” said Professor Karen Daniel, Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in a telephone interview. “If there is a perception that they are abusing their citizens, or that they’re not trustworthy, then they won’t be trusted by the citizens and they won’t be able to solve crimes or prevent crimes and, to me, that is what we see happening in a lot of major metropolitan areas in our country,” she said.
            Concerning the role of The Center on Wrongful Convictions, in addressing issues of bias or wrongdoing within the criminal justice system, Professor Daniel said that Northwestern University’s program is only one of many organizations trying to shine a light on such problems and as an institution, she sees it working both to vindicate individuals such as Mr. Pursley and to bring attention to the importance of truth in the courts.
“There are big questions that society is grappling with right now; mass incarceration, racism in the system, and our issue is primarily accuracy in the system,” Professor Daniel noted. “Sometimes, as the result of lawsuits that follow wrongful convictions, further information is brought to light about what led to the wrongful conviction in the first place,” she said.
            Regarding legislative initiatives and proposals designed to address disparities and injustices within the Illinois criminal justice system, Dr. Litesa Wallace, State Representative of Illinois’ 67th District and a member of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, said that Illinois became one of the first states in the nation to implement policing reforms to address practices such as stop-and-frisk, racial profiling and other practices negatively affecting police-community relations.
“We did get these policing reform bills signed, that were signed by Governor Rauner, after the   Legislative Black Caucus led the charge, in 2016, and then recently, we supported legislation to give what’s known as a Certificate of Innocence, so that individuals are able to access the resources necessary (to recover) from a wrongful conviction. We have to be intentional about creating policies that heal communities and to make them whole,” State Representative Wallace said.
Student Minister Yahcolyah Muhammad, of The Nation of Islam Rockford Study Group, said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan said that injustice at the hands of government destroys the fabric of society because those sworn to uphold justice and law are seen as failing to perform their duty. “Anytime someone is wrongly convicted, it can destroy or tear away at one’s belief or confidence in the justice system,” the Student Minister said. “This is why there is protest, this is why there is an upheaval, and this is why there is a lack of confidence in the justice system of America.” he said.