Black Agenda Radio Commentaries
News, analysis and commentary on the human condition from a black left perspective.
Obama, Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez: Who are the Truly ‘Big Men?’

What does putting "everything on the table" mean, in discussions among nations? Cuba's Raul Castro says he means literally everything, including exchange of political prisoners, as long as talks are held on the basis of equality. Barack Obama claims the next move is up to Cuba, but it appears Raul has already made an authentic offer. Besides, there is something fundamentally wrong when the nation that continues to commit crimes against its neighbor - the U.S. - asks for concessions before it will cease and desist

Obama, Raul and Hugo: Who are the Truly ‘Big Men?’

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

The U.S. holds pose no threat to the U.S., while the prisoners Havana holds may well pose a threat to Cuba.”

U.S. President Barack Obama says the next move is up to Cuba, to improve relations between the two countries. This statement is both typically Obama, and vintage American imperialist. Obama, just like his American presidential predecessors stretching back more than two centuries, thinks the United States has the right to decide when it’s time for other countries to forgive America’s own crimes – even when the Americans continue to commit those crimes. Obama tried to run that game at the Summit of the Americas, in Trinidad, this weekend, when he spoke of setting aside "stale debates and old ideologies." That’s the same language he uses, here in the U.S., when people want to talk seriously about curbing the power of money or creating a single-payer health care system. Obama pretends that everything he says is fresh, rather than stale, even when its old as dirt, or stolen from somebody else. He claims to have no ideology, while practicing imperialism, backed up by the biggest military budget in history, 24 hours a day. Since Obama smiles when he utters this kind of nonsense, he is called a statesman and a cool dude.

But let’s return to Cuba and the “next move.” President Obama has made concessions mostly to Cuban exile families who would like to visit their relatives and send more money, more often. Obama has not undone the historic U.S. economic, political, diplomatic and cultural blockade of Cuba, but only some of George Bush’s more egregious barriers, and mostly for the benefit of Cuban Americans. Cuban leader Raul Castro has offered to put “everything” on the table for discussion, including exchanges of political prisoners. That’s a much bigger concession for Cuba than for the United States. Cuba holds scores of prisoners that Havana says have sought to undermine the state and serve the interests of foreigners, meaning, the Americans. The United States holds only the Cuban Five, Cubans sent to infiltrate exile groups in Florida that were breaking the laws of the United States by carrying out operations against Cuba. Although convicted of espionage, the Cuban Five were not spying on the United States, but instead, spying on rightwing Cubans in the United States. In other words, the Cuban prisoners the U.S. holds pose no threat to the U.S., while the prisoners Havana holds may well pose a threat to Cuba. It is Cuba that would give up the most in an exchange. Yet Obama plays it coy, and noncommittal, while claiming that ideology and the preservation of the imperial big stick have nothing to do with it.

Fidel and Chavez ask only for relations on the basis of equality.”

Raul Castro and Hugo Chavez are the bigger men in this story. Raul would be perfectly justified in demanding that the United States first clear out of Guantanamo Bay, sovereign Cuban territory, before any further talks could be held on contact between relatives in Cuba and Miami, or on political prisoners. Raul could ask, on behalf of his brother, for an apology for the innumerable U.S. attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. Venezuelan President Chavez could demand the same on behalf of himself, for George Bush’s 2002 attempted coup against his government, in which Chavez came very close to being killed. But Fidel and Chavez ask only for relations on the basis of equality. Unfortunately, equality among nations is a pill no imperialist will swallow, including Barack Obama.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Direct download: 20090422_gf_ObamaSummit.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:45am EDT

People of Color Beset by Layers of Racial Profiling

"The 21st century began with a kind of ritual burial of racial profiling. Suddenly, nobody was in favor of it." Then cam 9/11, and racial profiling became a national imperative, the "patriotic thing to do." Both incarnations of racial profiling played out dramatically in New Jersey, where the Turnpike became a symbol of official racism on the road, later repudiated. The state now aggressively uses local police to question people about their immigration status, adding another layer of burden to people of color confronting arbitrarily intrusive police power.

People of Color Beset by Layers of Racial Profiling

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

New Jersey was a battleground state on the issue of racial profiling, back in the bad-old-days before 9/11 was used to mask racial profiling behind a veil of national security.”

In 2007, the New Jersey attorney general issued a directive to the state’s police officers, requiring them to question people arrested for indictable offenses or for drunk driving, about their immigration status. In the first six months of the directive, New Jersey cops referred 10,000 people to immigration authorities, although in the end less than 15 percent of those persons were charged with violating any immigration laws. Immigration rights activists have from the beginning warned that giving police the authority, or even duty, to question people about their legal status in the country, was an invitation to massive racial profiling. A new study out of Seton Hall University’s Law School seems to indicates those warnings were well-founded.

The study focuses on 68 cases in which police interrogated people about their immigration status for no apparent reason. None of the 68 had been stopped for drunk driving or carrying false documents. Sixty-five of the people questioned were Latino; the others were a Haitian, a Spaniard and a man from Kazakhstan. Seven of the incidents were in direct violation of the Attorney General’s order that no victims or witnesses to crimes be questioned about their immigrant status. For example, a woman who called police to complain about domestic violence was threatened with being reported to immigration authorities. A man who reported to police the loss of his passport was turned over to Immigration. A man who couldn’t produce a train ticket at a train station was held for seven days by police, and then handed over to Immigration.

Profiling became the patriotic thing to do.”

There are several large ironies, here. New Jersey is number three in the nation in terms of immigrant population, and was a battleground state on the issue of racial profiling, back in the bad-old-days before 9/11 was used to mask racial profiling behind a veil of national security. The New Jersey Turnpike became nationally known as a stretch of road where Black and Latino drivers ran a gauntlet of state policemen armed with racial profiles. The embarrassment finally wore New Jersey officials down and they agreed to allow in federal monitors.

It was a great victory for civil rights forces. The 21st century began with a kind of ritual burial of racial profiling. Suddenly, nobody was in favor of it. Racial profiling was a shame, a national disgrace, a relic of the past. And then came 9/11, and racial profiling – which had never really gone away, but had only become, briefly, politically out-of-season – returned with a vengeance. Now, profiling was the patriotic thing to do. Rather than curtailing profiling by police, state officials, like New Jersey’s attorney general, were ordering them to become more aggressive in demanding proof of immigrant status.

The final irony is that the New Jersey order was a reaction to a triple murder attributed to an undocumented immigrant in a neighborhood of Newark. It is an overwhelmingly non-white neighborhood, whose residents are already effectively profiled by police and government officials of all kinds. It is this institutional profiling that creates ghettos and barrios across America. Profiling is as ancient as Black slavery and Indian-hunting. Now the so-called War on Terror adds another layer of profile, another burden that only people of color must bear.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Direct download: 20090422_gf_ImmigrantAbuse.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:32am EDT

Black Drug Incarceration Rates Down, White Numbers Way Up

We have apparently reached the end of merciless cycle. After decades of "predatory policing of Black communities, which seemed intended to sweep the streets of as many young Blacks as the prisons could consume, the criminal justice system simply reached saturation point." Black drug incarceration rates are dramatically down, while whites have skyrocketed. On the Black side, "the police whipped on us until they got tired." On the white side, the methamphetamine epidemic could no longer "be swept under the rug."

Black Drug Incarceration Rates Down, White Numbers Way Up

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford

After three solid decades of merciless, predatory policing of Black communities, the criminal justice system simply reached saturation point.”

For the first time since federal agencies have been keeping racial statistics on drug convictions, there has been a decline in the number of African Americans incarcerated on drug charges. White incarceration in state prisons on drug charges increased during the same period, between 1999 and 2005 according to a new study, conducted by the Sentencing Project, based in Washington. The Black decline in drug imprisonment was significant, at a little over 21 percent. But the white increase was breathtaking, about twice as high as the Black decline, at 42.6 percent.

So, why is drug incarceration moving in different directions for whites and Blacks? Probably for very different reasons, since the two groups are treated so differently by law enforcement. But first, let’s emphasize that the big picture still hasn’t changed: Blacks continue to make up 44 percent of state prisoners doing time for drugs, while whites comprise only 27 percent of drug prison inmates – although whites are 75 percent of the U.S. population. Remember that study after study has shown that Blacks and whites do drugs at about the same rate. It is the difference in law enforcement’s treatment of drug use among Blacks and whites that creates the huge disparities in arrests, charges and eventual incarceration.

With that understanding as a backdrop, it seems logical to conclude that a veritable drug binge occurred among whites from the late Nineties to the middle of the current decade – an explosion of drug sale and use to which the criminal justice system was forced to respond in an uncharacteristically harsh manner. The methamphetamine epidemic among whites was so destructive, so in-your-face, it could not be swept under the rug. White arrests went up dramatically.

The methamphetamine epidemic among whites was so destructive, so in-your-face, it could not be swept under the rug.”

But an increase in white drug imprisonment does not automatically lead to a decline in Black incarceration. It is generally acknowledged that the crack cocaine trade is less of a free-for-all than in decades past, which would account for some decline in Black incarceration. Corporate media managed to find some so-called “experts” who claimed racial profiling is on the decline – but that’s a bunch of nonsense unsupported by any evidence. What may have occurred is, after three solid decades of merciless, predatory policing of Black communities, which seemed intended to sweep the streets of as many young Blacks as the prisons could consume, the criminal justice system simply reached saturation point. They had arrested every young African American male – and increasing numbers of females – that they could wrap their tentacles around, and had finally reached the point of dwindling returns.

If such is the case – if Black drug incarceration rates are on the decline because the system ran out of easily grabbable victims – this represents no victory or turnaround for Black America. It means only that the police have whipped on us until they got tired. And now, with white drug incarceration so dramatically on the rise – now we finally hear murmurings about the need for prison reform. In a racism-saturated society, there are no statistical coincidences involving question of crime and punishment.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

Direct download: 20090422_gf_BlacksPrison.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:11am EDT