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Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Now 18 to 1

In The Black Man on July 30, 2010 at 6:20 am

On Wednesday Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act; a measure that’s intended to reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine convictions. According to the Washington Post, “the measure changes a 1986 law, enacted at a time when crack cocaine use was rampant and considered a particularly violent drug. Under the law, a person convicted of crack cocaine possession got the same mandatory prison term as someone with 100 times the same amount of powder cocaine. The new legislation reduces that ratio to about 18 to 1.” Additionally, the new law rids the five year mandatory minimum sentence for “first-time possession of crack.”

President Obama is anticipated to sign the new law, which now imposes a mandatory five-year minimum sentence on those convicted of possessing 28 grams of crack rather than five grams of crack. In a show of bipartisanship, cosponsors Democrat Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, “said nearly 1,500 people were convicted last year for possession of five to 25 grams of crack cocaine, subjecting them to mandatory minimum sentences.”

According to the Human Rights Watch, minorities have been most affected by the minimum five-year sentence with “Blacks…constitut[ing] the preponderance of federal crack cocaine offenders since the 100-1 differential was enacted, despite the fact that more whites used crack. In Fiscal Year 2008, 79.8 percent of federal defendants sentenced for crack cocaine offenses were black. But, according to federal drug use surveys, 27 percent of crack cocaine users were black and 65 percent were white. The disproportionate number of black drug offenders sentenced for crack cocaine offenses helps explain the far longer average sentence lengths for all black federal drug offenders: 111.5 months compared to 73.5 months.”

Republican Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, believes the change in sentencing guidelines could open the door to a crack epidemic in minority communities much like that of the 1980s. “Why do we want to risk another surge of addiction and violence by reducing penalties? Why are we coddling some of the most dangerous drug traffickers in America?”

The change in the sentencing guidelines according to a Congressional Budget Office report is projected to save the federal prisons some $42 million over the course of the next five years.

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Here’s to #55

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2010 at 1:14 am

When I heard the news that former Memphis Tiger Lorenzen Wright was missing, I knew something was tragically wrong. Although I did not know Wright personally, he was not known as the individual to just “get away.” I knew enough of Lorenzen to know that he cared about the Bluff City–Memphis–and even when he was 19 years old, he understood how important it was for him to give back to those who were less fortunate. He also understood what influence he had on children following in his footsteps. Lorenzen spoke at my junior high school basketball banquet after completing his freshman year at U of M. I was literally star-strucked.

When I heard the news late yesterday afternoon that a body was found not far from my former home in Memphis, I knew then that this could not be good news. I’m sick; it saddens me to know that Lorenzen Vern-Gagne Wright’s life just came to a very sudden and tragic end. A city mourns, a family mourns, and now many are asking why. I will continue to sit with my laptop watching Memphis news outlets, all the while in disbelief. Lorenzen was not perfect, but his heart was pure; he obviously cared about people, and he readily gave back. I will forever remember Lorenzen as that wirey kid from Booker T. Washington high school, who oozed intensity, heart, and determination.

For more on Lorenzen, click here to read my dear friend David Jordan’s blog about one of our heroes.

Rest in Peace #55.

A Missing Tiger

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 8:29 am

It shouldn’t be a secret by now, I am a Memphis State University–now University of Memphis–fan. Always have been. A dear friend of mine questions my loyalty to Mississippi, the state, and the institution that I now call home, Mississippi State University. I love maroon and white, but I will always bleed blue and gray. Go Tigers Go! Go on to Victory…Fight Tigers, Fight Cause We’re Going All the Way–Fight, Fight.

I remember the highs and lows of football and basketball seasons; remember players who many of my friends never heard of, particularly in basketball. Anthony Douglas, Tony Madlock, Billy Smith, Ernest Smith, John McLaughlin, Ben Spiva, David Vaughn, Lorenzen Wright, and let’s not forget Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. The Tigers hold a dear place in my heart.

Sometime last year I wrote a blog describing the ups and downs David Vaughn experienced, and now his former teammate on the 1994-95 Sweet Sixteen team, Lorenzen Wright, is the subject of today’s blog. Lorenzen has been missing since July 19, where he was last seen in Collierville, TN at a barbershop.

Wright made my household very proud when he was drafted No. 7 overall in 1996 by the LA Clippers–he went on to have a journeyman, solid 13 year NBA career. For the Collierville, TN police chief “Hopefully, with all the notoriety and information, somebody will call and give us a lead that proves helpful.” Many rumors have circulated about the former Tiger’s whereabouts, but we wish nothing but the best and a safe return home to his family. Lorenzen is a Tiger for life, and he embodies the school’s fight song–“it’s fight now without a fear, fight now let’s shout a cheer” and instead of shouting for Dear Memphis U, we replace that with Lorenzen.

Click here for more on the story.

…i’m sorry…

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2010 at 2:59 pm

This week has been dedicated to reflection on my older blogs–I can’t remember exactly which blog, but I recall posting that one of the hardest things to do is to admit when we are wrong. Saying “I’m sorry”–those small words can have a significant impact on things to come. Now one would have to question the sincerity of the apology, yet, when sincere, “I’m sorry” is a step toward healing.

Shirley Sherrod, former USDA Director of Rural Development in Georgia, is perhaps one of the most “googled” names since being forced to resign her post for alleged racist comments at an NAACP function earlier this year. What seems to have happened is a premature pulling of the proverbial trigger regarding the comments Ms. Sherrod made. Sherrod was telling a story about “the first time I was faced with having to help a white farmer save his farm… He had to come to me for help. What he didn’t know while he was taking all that time trying to show me he was superior to me was I was trying to decide just how much help I was going to give him. I was struggling with the fact that so many black people have lost their farmland and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land — so I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.” These comments were apparently a few lines of a larger explanation, a story that Sherrod was sharing with her audience.

However, after recent squabbles between the NAACP and some members of the Tea Party concerning issues of race, this story quickly ignited and took on a new life before anyone fact checked. And now, much like last summer’s Beer Summit, we are again having a summit regarding race in America. There is a fear that, no matter the race, that someone would be subjected to unfair conditions and treatment. And sometimes “I’m sorry” is not what we need, but “let’s discuss” the origins of our beliefs and why we believe certain things (and why are we so quickly to assume the worst–where is there fear?).

And now the larger story has come out–Sherrod has received apologies from President Obama and the Secretary of Agriculture…and I’m sorry doesn’t seem quite enough, but it’s a start to understanding the knee-jerk reactions to an otherwise compelling story.

And so…we wait…

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 9:05 am

As for Elena Kagan-we are waiting to see whether the Senate Judiciary Committee gives a thumbs up or thumbs down on her nomination to the Supreme Court. On my May 17 blog “The Trifecta,” I referenced how African American women felt spurned by President Obama’s selection in Kagan. Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse Finance Professor, gave five reasons why Kagan “is bad for America, bad for black America, bad for academia and represents the very worst of what we stand for as a nation.” And so we wait…how will the Senate vote today…

…And we wait on…waiting to see whether the latest news in the fight against HIV/AIDS could drastically change the course of this deadly disease. According to two studies conducted in Africa, researchers “have found different ways to sharply cut H.I.V. infections among women and schoolgirls, who make up a majority of the newly infected in sub-Saharan Africa.” As reported by the New York Times, “Women who used a vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication widely used to treat AIDS, tenofovir, were 39 percent less likely over all to contract H.I.V. than those who used a placebo. Those who used the gel most regularly reduced their chances of infection 54 percent, according to a two-and-a-half year study of 889 women by Caprisa, a Durban-based AIDS research center.” And “broader trials are needed to confirm results…” and because the studies conducted had rather small numbers of participants, a larger sample will have to be conducted.

Charting a course in history sometimes takes a wait-and-see approach; and we so we wait to see what the tomorrow will look like…

Standing on Curt Flood’s Shoulders

In Uncategorized on July 14, 2010 at 9:22 am

Whewww! Now that “The Decision” has been made, and we all have served as “witnesses” to the fall of a King in one city and the grand welcoming of him in another, let’s get back to other news. What a week: one of my favorite gospel singers, Walter Hawkins (Oh Happy Day fame) passed away, losing a battle to pancreatic cancer; the legendary announcer for the New York Yankees Bob Sheppard passed away; and “The Boss” George Steinbrenner, controversial New York Yankee owner, passed away just yesterday. And thinking about “The Decision” seems a little trivial just now. But wait…

We return to the aftermath of “The Decision,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson likened jilted Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s comments about LeBron James to that of a slave master mentality”. And Jackson continues, “He sees LeBron as a runaway slave. This is an owner employee relationship — between business partners — and LeBron honored his contract.” This is not the first time “master and slave” comparison has been levied in sports. Curt Flood famously sued Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1969 for the right to be a free agent. The St. Louis Cardinal was “owned for life”–much like a slave, he said, he was just a well paid slave—as most teams owned their players for that duration. Can you imagine LeBron not being able to leave Cleveland? Can you imagine in this day a team of any sport owning a player and dismissing him/her whenever they so choose (sometimes teams consult players to help them land in a good place–so can you imagine a team not consulting the player?). Can you imagine a player not being able to take his/her skills on the market to earn top dollar for their craft?

LeBron’s decision was made for him when Flood defeated MLB. Without his freedom to choose, for Flood he could not fully participate or enjoy in obtaining the American Dream. When I watched the LeBron special, all I could do was think of Bernard Chartres, who said “we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size.”

The Decision

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 at 1:31 am

Today is the day–King James makes his announcement: to stay in Cleveland or not to stay that is the burning question in this NBA’s free agency soap opera. Let’s think about the figures: on yesterday Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder re-signed for a max contract of $85 million over five years; Ray Allen re-signed with the Boston Celtics for $20 million over two years (with a player option in the second year, which means that Allen could select to walk away after next season if he so chooses); Carlos Boozer signed a five year $85 million contract with the Chicago Bulls; and oh yes, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to sign with Miami, contractual terms undisclosed as of yet because everyone’s waiting on THE DECISION FROM KING JAMES.

While the free agency trains continues, a friend of mine–who, as long as I’ve known her is not one to sugar-coat or dance around any issue. She’s the friend you don’t ask whether you look fat in that snug dress because she will tell you the truth–had a rather interesting facebook status:

“Hey America…while we are paying
Athletes 100 million dollars to
Play whatever sport, we are
Closing schools, firing teachers, and treating our children and elderly like second class citizens. While we are buying tickets to sports events, let’s think about
That.”

While LeBron is making the decision–many state and local governments are making very tough decisions themselves–what programs or departments to cut and how much to cut. Mississippi state Representative Richard Bennett is very concerned about the imminent decision concerning cuts to the education system. According to Danielle Thomas of WLOX, “A South Mississippi legislator [Bennett] says he’s concerned about the fallout from school districts being forced to once again slash their budgets. On Friday Governor Haley Barbour announced a new round of cuts including $75 million in education. Representative Richard Bennett of district 120 says no one in state office wants to make cuts but the truth is the money just isn’t there and our education system will likely suffer because of it.”

My friend may have been a little over the top with her status, but she’s questioning all of our priorities. As often as I heard this as a child, it deserves repeating now, the children are the future; and many states are faced with a challenge of how best to preserve the future in the face of ever-shrinking budgets. And so in the meantime, I wait on the Decision–where will LeBron play next year??? and what will remain of education???

“…let freedom ring…”

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

I proudly hold membership to the land of the free, opportunity, prosperity, and a dream. Being that we are a nation of immigrants and merging cultures, it is no surprise that many others want to access this membership as well. Freedom to come and go; freedom to move around; freedom to make the dream possible for you and yours; freedom, this country is synonymous with freedom. Yes, there have been some significant historical hurdles, stops and starts on the definition of freedom and who should be able to access or apply for membership.

I have heard some say, “come through the front door,” meaning apply for a green card, take the necessary classes to become a naturalized American citizen. America’s dynamic has been changing since its founding, and it’s no different now. The number of undocumented persons has been a political sticking point for quite some time. So much so, that states and towns have instituted their own immigration laws–none more famous than Arizona’s. And now the United States Justice Department has, as the Washington Post’s Jerry Markon writes, “has decided to file suit against Arizona on the grounds that the state’s new immigration law illegally intrudes on federal prerogatives, law enforcement sources said Monday.”

The Arizona Law (from CNN):

“Arizona’s law orders immigrants to carry their alien registration documents at all times and requires police to question people if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the United States illegally.

It also targets those who hire illegal immigrant laborers or knowingly transport them.”

The Justice Department’s anticipated suit against Arizona “will invoke for its main argument the legal doctrine of “preemption,” which is based on the Constitution’s supremacy clause and says that federal law trumps state statutes. Justice Department officials believe that enforcing immigration laws is a federal responsibility, the sources said.”

The concerns surrounding immigration and the rise of undocumented persons will not be resolved over night or even by some quick fix, membership–who and how–to access this membership is in question…and the next stage is in defining membership, which is nothing new; immigration is an historical problem that the land of the free has visited, revisited from time to time.

“…they’re at again…”

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2010 at 6:00 am

I once was told by a friend that if I reference California for anything I must do a couple of things: 1) recognize that California is not in touch with the rest of the world; and 2) just not reference California at all. Of course I inquired as to why, to which the response was; “they are just too liberal; out of touch with reality.” While my friend was only kidding, I venture to say that some would agree with his analysis.

I remember as a teen Prop 215 (medical marijuana) and its eventual legalization and enactment in 1996; the on again, off again legalization of same-sex marriage, recalling Gray Davis in 2003 only to replace him with a movie star named Arnold–California is a rather interesting case study. Now the state NAACP chapter endorses an upcoming ballot measure that would legalize marijuana. NAACP California chapter president Alice Huffman believes California has the opportunity to reexamine its drug laws and how they adversely impact minorities. Proposition 19 “would allow residents to legally grow small gardens of marijuana, letting individual counties and cities decide whether to allow the marijuana to be sold.”

According to an LA Times post, Huffman views the “the war on drugs is a failure and disproportionately targets young men and women of color, particularly African-American males, said Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP’s state conference. The group cited statistics from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice showing that in 2009, 62% of the state’s marijuana arrests were of nonwhite suspects and that 42% were under 20.”

A rather interesting argument, an argument that for many religious leaders is a dangerous one. For Bishop Ron Allen Alice Huffman should seriously consider resigning her post as state chapter president. “It is time to take a closer look at how decisions are made at the California NAACP and what the contributing factors were that caused Alice Huffman to side with Proposition 19. California NAACP President Alice Huffman is selling out the very people that the NAACP has a history of protecting.”

As usual, come November, eyes will be watching California, with many shaking their heads, saying “they’re at again.”