Friday, January 4

The Roundtable with Brother Muhammad presents

AUDIO POD CAST:

AUDIO REPLAY: The Roundtable with Brother Muhammad

The Roundtable with Brother Muhammad interviews Elner Clark, sister of the late Black Panther Party organizer for downstate Illinois, Mark Clark, who along with Fred Hampton, was assassinated on December 4, 1969 by a Chicago police task force under J. Edgar Hoover's FBI and the abusive COINTELPRO program, designed to discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize Black American Leadership, Black American organizations and Black American individuals who resisted racism, racial injustice and the discriminatory practices of the American government. 
  

Tuesday, July 16

From The Final Call Newspaper

Remembering Elijah Al-Amin: A collision between an innocent victim, White fear and White supremacy

By Barrington M. Salmon Contributing Writer @bsalmondc


This undated photo provided by Serina Rides shows her son Elijah Al-Amin. Photo: AP Serina Rides


The sheer audacity and the ruthlessness of Elijah Al-Amin’s death is reverberating far beyond the Circle K convenience store where a man—two days out of prison—walked up behind him while he was getting a fountain drink, stabbed him twice in the back and then cut his throat.

Elijah, 17, died shortly after in a Phoenix area hospital in the early morning hours of Independence Day.


Elijah Al-Amin, 17, was stabbed to death at a convenience store in Peoria, Arizona. Photo:MGNonline.com


Black parents across the country are holding their children closer, pulling them aside to warn them of the ever-present dangers for children of African descent in America and praying for them every time the young people leave the house.

And in Phoenix, Elijah’s parents, family and others stunned by his murder, are hoping justice will prevail.


Michael Adams has been charged with first-degree premeditated murder. Photo MGN Online


Law enforcement officials identified the killer as Michael Paul Adams, 27. Elijah had stopped at the convenience store after work and walked into the store followed by Mr. Adams. Witnesses say there was no conversation or any type of confrontation prior to Mr. Adams’ attack. The police found Mr. Adams walking nearby the convenience store.

And according to probable cause documents filed by Peoria, Ariz., Mr. Adams confessed, telling them he felt unsafe because of the rap music Elijah was playing. According to court documents, Mr. Adams yelled at detectives and said “rap music made him feel unsafe because in the past, he was attacked by people who listened to that music genre.” Mr. Adams is also said to have told detectives he “needed to be proactive than reactive and protect himself and the community from the victim.”

Mr. Adams was booked into the Maricopa County jail on suspicion of first-degree premeditated murder and held on a $1 million bond. His arraignment was scheduled for July 18.

In his first court appearance, Mr. Adams’ lawyer Jacie Cotterell told the court he’s mentally ill. She repeated her assertion in a TV interview where she accused the Arizona Department of Corrections of releasing Mr. Adams without sufficient supervision or resources.

“They released him to the streets with no holdover meds, no way to care for himself,” Ms. Cotterell said. “This is a disabled person and he’s been released into the world and left to fend for himself. And two days later, this is where we are.”

Ms. Cotterell said Adams needs to be treated for his illness, not sent to prison. She also said she wants to see policy changes and more resources and psychiatric help made available for incarcerated individuals while they’re behind bars.

“I believe that this crime was preventable,” she said. “Policy is all well and good, but when policy fails, I think a reasonable person and reasonable people would agree policy needs to change.”

Corrections department spokespeople said Mr. Adams had not been classified as seriously mentally ill and was not on prescription medication at the time of his release. He was given contact information for social service providers, they said. “He was no longer under the department’s legal jurisdiction and the department had no further legal authority over him,” a spokesman said in a statement.

Ms. Cotterell’s focus on Mr. Adams’ mental illness has angered activists, the public and parents Rahim Al-Amin and Serina Rides.

“It still feels like a really bad dream,” Ms. Rides told a reporter on Good Evening Arizona. “I just can’t foresee how I’m supposed to do this every day, live without my son because somebody says they have a mental issue, because of my son’s passion for music … this definitely is a hate crime. He specified exactly Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans. He specified that, he specified rap. That’s not a hate crime?”

If Mr. Adams was such a threat, so unstable, she said, why was he released back into the community?

“The world really messed up because that man took my son’s life. I don’t want any parent to suffer like this like his father and I,” the distraught mother said during the interview. “The Department of Correction needs to figure out how to assess these people. Somebody has to be responsible for that. The hardest part is … is learning to live without my baby …”

Elijah’s death trended on social media under the hashtag #JusticeforElijah and Twitter users, Elijah’s friends, family, activists and others were demanding that Mr. Adams be charged with a hate crime.

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said on Twitter, “This murder is a hate crime that must be investigated by the DOJ.” Another Twitter user, K’La@kalahspeaks said: “And yet again another name to add to this already full flag of unarmed black men, women and children, but it’s a ‘mental health’ issue. No, it’s a ‘too much melanin.’ #JusticeForElijah.”

This tragedy is eerily similar to the murder of Jordan Davis, 17, who was shot and killed at a gas station in 2012 by 47-year-old Michael Dunn, who fired into the car with four Black teens because he objected to their loud music argued with Jordan about it. Mr. Dunn is serving life in prison.

Hilario Muhammad, protocol director of the Nation of Islam mosque in Phoenix, said he had learned that Elijah worked at Subway, had worked late, gotten off of work, got a ride and stopped at the Circle K.

“He was catching a ride with a friend who worked at Subway with him,” Mr. Muhammad said. “He was a young man of good character, with no priors. Everybody is devastated because of the reason why he died. What’s making people angry is that lawyer is using the mental illness defense. He confessed to the murder and there was a video camera in store.”

Phoenix resident Susan Marie Smith could barely contain her anger.

“It is a system of discrimination that the Department of Justice has allowed to keep happening. A Black man with no weapons is killed and the system will allow him to plead insanity,” the entrepreneur and former veteran said. “It’s the justification of bullshit. He said ‘I’m gonna kill this nigga.’ ”

Mrs. Smith said she’s pretty sure he “knows the system and that if you say that Black people are threatening or look intimidating,” he’ll get off. The cops always get off with that verbiage and they know how to frame the narrative, she said.

“We’re hearing a contradiction with the state of his mental health. They say when he got discharged, he was supposed to be on medication. But prison officials also said he didn’t need any. They’re trying to make the department responsible for his mental health. The killer had enough sense to know right from wrong or he wouldn’t have followed him. He had to think how to confront the young man and he attacked him from the back, that’s strategic. It’s clear he was angry at Black people. Maybe he got his ass kicked by some Blacks in prison and saw this as a way to get revenge.”

“The family should sue the state if he was released while mentally ill.”

Eric Muhammad, his wife—owners of the Urban Arizona News Journal newspaper—and other interviewees described Arizona as a racial tinderbox with the couple saying they’ve seen groups like the Patriots, Neo-Nazis and other Whites becoming more assertive, particularly in public meetings, since Donald Trump became president.

“It’s very interesting. A lot of people feel that we’re actually targeted by police,” Eric Muhammad explained. “This is a very conservative city, run by non-Blacks. There was a larger Black community when I came in 1991. Now a lot of people are coming here. It looks like there’s a resurgence of consciousness.”

Yet at the same time, Mr. Muhammad’s wife Constance added, there is the increased presence of Whites who resent the presence of Black people and take issue with any attempt by them to assert themselves or their rights.

We live in a time, interviewees said, when seeking to constrain Black movement, thoughts and speech feels right and natural to more than a few White people.

Georgetown Professor Robin Marcus captured the sentiment in an earlier interview.

“In the last few years, there’s been a rising tide all over the world of White people alarmed by the rising tide of Blackness,” she told The Final Call. “It is the strain of American Whiteness that has had enough and found a leader who’s so overtly for them. He’s gotten in the house and opened all the doors.”

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery reminded the public in a press conference that “Elijah did nothing wrong” and didn’t do anything to provoke the attack. While some have focused on Mr. Adams’ mental health history as a possible motive, Mr. Montgomery encouraged people to shift the narrative back to Elijah, who was the victim.

“Elijah did nothing wrong,” stressed Mr. Montgomery, the father of a teenaged son, who at one point choked up. “He was at a convenience store. He was just in there shopping, buying whatever a 17-year-old boy is going to buy.”

Elijah’s parents said the same as they described their son in glowing terms.

“He was a good kid, very good kid, always wanted to help people in general,” Rahim Al-Amin said in a television interview shortly after his son’s death. “He was just my son, I mean, he was just a good kid going to school. ... He was just a good kid. It’s unfortunate this happened to him. He liked to play sports, he always wanted to help others. He was just a clown, was happy-go-lucky, that’s was who he was. I could say a lot of things about my son but …”

Elijah’s mother said her son was a smart, caring young man who loved to laugh, rap music, loved videogames and loved his family, always looked after his brothers and sister. Elijah was slated to be a senior this year at Apollo High School, would have turned 18 at the end of July, was in the ROTC and wanted to become a Marine and start his own business.

Milwaukee-based mental health expert and licensed psychologist Dr. Ramel Kweku Akyirefi Smith said he thinks what happened represents a failure on multiple levels.

“Corrections knew he had significant health issues. The lawyer said so,” said Dr. Smith, who is also an author, and mental performance coach. “He had had no follow up with anybody. He apparently had mental health issues and was in jail for being violent. He had a propensity to be violent.”

“This is also a failure of the criminal justice system and society at large for allowing racism to persist. It’s the media and Donald Trump who’s made rap music appear to be the trigger. He felt he was doing a ‘service.’ In this environment, our color and skin is weaponized. Even this young man’s light skin was no protection. This is even worse than Trayvon (Martin). He was minding his own business. I don’t care if the music was on his hip, on his head or in the car. This should not have happened.”

What the country is seeing play out now is a legacy of White supremacy, Dr. Smith said. “They’re seeing a person of color and see everything that’s negative and evil,” he said. “I don’t give Trump that much credit. He allowed people to show their true colors. It’s no longer political correctness. This is America in 2019. But this has always been America. Now all this is in full bloom. Are we doing enough to defend ourselves? No! No, we aren’t doing enough. It’s like a bully. He’s going to mess with you until you fight back and kick his butt.”

“Because we don’t do anything it’s allowed to go on. Until there’s retaliation, they’ll keep doing it. My people built this land and I’m not going anywhere. We must demand reparations, land and money. We have to come together to be effective. Until there’s unity, we’ll be vulnerable.”


Wednesday, July 10

From The Final Call Newspaper

‘Black snow’ from sugarcane harmful to Black, poor communities in Florida?

By J.S. Adams Contributing Writer @niiahadams

Thick black smoke plumes from sugarcane fields near Belle Glade, Fla., a predominantly Black community west of West Palm Beach and just south of Lake Okeechobee. Residents watch as red-orange flames engulf the sugarcane fields as the industry prepares for harvesting season.

These annual burnings, which take place from October to March, May or June, make it easier for farmers to harvest the sugarcane.


‘Black snow’ or ashes fall on top of vehicle in Glades community. Photos via Stop Sugar Field Burning Now/Facebook


However, the side effects leave the residents of Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee with respiratory problems and a poor quality of life.

While these burnings have been going on for several years with groups rising up to combat them, a recent lawsuit against the Florida sugar industry has brought it to national light, bringing attention to an issue that has forced residents to take a stand.

The lawsuit, filed by the Berman Law Group in June, seeks to permanently end the pre-harvesting burning, obtain economic and property damages, and health monitoring, particularly for children, the poor and elderly.


Horses graze in a field near the U.S. Sugar Corporation's mill and refinery in Clewiston, Fla. Nov. 8, 2001. Photo: AP Photo/Amy E. Conn


“The firm has been working on this issue for a long time prior to me joining,” said Joseph Abruzzo, director of government relations for the Berman Law Group. “What put them on track was several clients alerting them to what was occurring with them and that spawned the investigation into hiring the experts (and) finding what was in the air of the Glades community.”

Joining the fight in this lawsuit is Frank Biden, the younger brother of Presidential candidate Joe Biden, and former NFL player Fred Taylor, who grew up in the Glades community. In a video produced by the Berman Law Group, both agree the burnings need to stop.

The sugar industry burns about nine million tons of sugarcane foliage on 400,000 acres each year. EarthJustice, a legal group for environmental organizations, says the burning puts out more than 2,800 tons of hazardous pollutants into the air annually. According to the Sierra Club, an environmental non-profit organization, the sugarcane is burned in order to rid the plant of its outer layer so that the sugar stalk will remain.

Patrick Ferguson, the organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s Stop Sugar Field Burning Campaign, said health issues due to the burnings are a major concern.

“Exposure to pre-harvest sugar field burning pollution has been linked via medical research to many negative health impacts including respiratory diseases, cancer, cardiac disease, and poor infant health outcomes,” he said. “Many of the campaign volunteers either themselves suffer from respiratory issues or have family members who do. Some of our volunteers have young children who have to use breathing devices during the 6-8 months long harvesting season when sugarcane is burned.”

The lawsuit alleges that due to the burning, harmful pollutants are released into the air. It creates “black snow” during burn season, or ashes that fall down onto the Glades communities. Because of this, children in the Glades communities use breathing machines at night and walk to school with trash bags over their head to protect them from the black snow.

“There’s a lake, they have issues,” Mr. Abruzzo said. “I wasn’t too long ago out at one of the churches and multiple ladies had on white dresses. They know when the ash falls on your dresses ... . You can’t swipe it away because it will create a black line. You blow it. The black snow is right in front of their faces, on their car, over their homes and worst of all, it’s in the lungs of the children and elderly.”

The Poor People’s Campaign held an event in Belle Glade where residents, pastors and activists had the chance to share their experiences about the burnings.


Steve Messam


Steve Messam, a pastor born and raised in Belle Glade, shared how his father came to the United States from Jamaica as a contracted migrant worker hired to cut the sugarcane. The pastor got involved with the Sierra Club’s campaign because he noticed many of the people he knew were suffering from breathing difficulties.

“They were suffering from a lot of respiratory issues, whether it was asthma or allergies,” he said during Poor People’s Campaign gathering. “A lot of people were also dying from cancer at a crazy rate.”

Mr. Ferguson says the black snow and air quality affects not only health issues, but the community’s quality of life.

“You’re talking about the harvesting season lasting from October to May, some of the best months to be outside and enjoy the Florida weather and during days when large amounts of toxic burning takes place, people in the region are often forced to stay indoors,” he said.

Alina Alonso, director of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County, said the health department uses a website called airnow.gov to monitor air quality within the region. She said air quality counts remnants that come from ash and into the air. The website measures air quality ranging from good to hazardous.

“Only those who are sensitive to the smoke or burnings will be affected by moderate,” Ms. Alonso said. “But if it gets above 100, then that’s unhealthy for everyone.”

Mr. Ferguson said many doctors in the area suggest options for residents that aren’t always reasonable.



Pre-harvest sugar burning in the Glades. Photos via Stop Sugar Field Burning Now/Facebook


“One common thread that we continue to hear is that doctors tell residents from the communities heavily impacted by pre-harvest sugar field burning that the best long term solution for their health issues is to move to an area with better air quality, which many residents don’t have the resources or the will to do so, nor should they have to do so,” he said.

Back in 2015, the Sierra Club filed a legal action asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the burnings.

“The way sugarcane burning is regulated makes it an environmental justice issue as well. Regulations in place are based off wind speed and direction that prevent burn permits from being issued when the winds would carry the smoke and ash toward the more affluent in eastern Palm Beach County,” Mr. Ferguson said. “However minimal protections are in place from the toxic smoke and ash when they blow toward the lower income rural communities within the Everglades Agricultural Area. This leads the predominantly African-American and Hispanic population of the Glades communities of western Palm Beach County that are surrounded by over 75 percent of the total sugarcane acreage in Florida to disproportionately bear the negative impacts of pre-harvest sugar field burning.”

The alternative that’s offered to the sugarcane industry is green harvesting.

“The Florida sugarcane industry already green harvests in small amounts each year. Other countries around the world have been phasing out of burning altogether because of the negative health and environmental impacts of pre-harvest burning but also because of the many benefits associated with green harvesting as well,” Mr. Ferguson said.

Because of the pre-harvest burning, the Glades communities have suffered economically as well. Mr. Abruzzo said whereas Palm Beach county and the state of Florida have seen an increase in real estate values, property values for the Glades community remain stagnant.


Pre-harvest sugar burning in the Glades. Photos via Stop Sugar Field Burning Now/Facebook

“Everybody knows if you move out there, you’ll have to deal with four months of black snow over your home,” Mr. Abruzzo said.

Mr. Ferguson believes that a shift towards green harvesting can help improve the economic condition of the community.

“[It] can create more economic opportunities which are important especially for the lower income Glades communities,” he said. “What the sugar industry considers as trash can be used to generate more electricity, create mulch, biochar, biofuels, and can even be used to create tree-free paper products.”

Florida sugar companies have caught wind of the Berman Group’s lawsuit and say that they believe in their practices.

“The health, safety and jobs of our communities all are vitally important to U.S. Sugar,” spokeswoman Judy Sanchez told Treasure Coast Newspapers in a statement. “We are American farmers and stand behind the safety and integrity of our farming practices, which are highly regulated and legally permitted on a daily basis by the government. Our farming practices are safe, environmentally sound, highly regulated and closely monitored.”

Ms. Sanchez also said company officials “live in these Glades communities and raise our families here—our children and grandchildren—in the neighborhoods, schools and churches throughout these small, close-knit farming towns.”

Mr. Abruzzo said he’s looking forward to the company providing the names of those officials who live in the area.

“One of the most disappointing things since the lawsuit was filed is the propaganda that the sugar companies are helping lead that we are well aware of and without question will be discussing in depositions, primarily, that the lawsuits are trying to put sugar out of business. That could be anything but the truth,” he said. “The sugar companies profit in the billions of dollars per year. I’m sure they wouldn’t even notice on their balance sheets doing it a proper way and not harming an entire community. This would create more jobs if they do it by hand. At the end of the day, they just can’t burn.”

Mr. Ferguson and volunteers that work with him have spent the past four years pressing this issue. He said it’s something that must be known all around the country.

“There’s no reason the sugarcane industry should continue to put short term profits ahead of the long-term health and welfare of the surrounding residents, especially when there are so many benefits that can be gained from transitioning to green harvesting,” he said. “It’s time for the industry to become better neighbors to the surrounding communities by stopping the burn and switching to green harvesting.”

“I believe it’s a very good thing that attention is being paid to this very important issue. The Glades has been suffering for a very long time.” Mr. Abruzzo said. “Ultimately, I do believe that the law will be with the people. Once this is corrected, I believe the Glades will stop being one of the poorest places in the country. It will be vibrant and flourishing.”

Mr. Abruzzo said the first step after the legal filing is to immediately get the sugar industry to stop burning while the case is going on. This case is federal, but they also plan to file state and individual claims.