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segunda-feira, outubro 31, 2005

The Set Up (Part One): We got the Problem

For the past month, I have been working as a public defender in Boston, Massachusetts. I am out there every day in the criminal justice system performing legal acrobatics to win the freedom of my clients. In mixed company I say that I am "protecting the constitutional rights of the poor from the over-reacing power of government", but what it really comes down to for me is simple -- it is a fight for freedom.

I was drawn to the job because it appeals to my sense of justice and my desire to stick it to the man everyday. I always knew it was a white man's world. My father was a Rastafari when we were growing up so he told us the ways of the Babylon sytem at an early age. I peronally have experienced racism, both the obnoxious blantnat variety and the more nefarious subtle version which is common to New England. But it wasn't until I went to law school that I really realized that the whole justice system is a big set-up for the most part.

Law is a tool of oppression in this country. It has always been a tool of opression and maybe it always will be. Even our precious constitution with all of its so-called freedoms is used to placate and oppress. In the original constitution slavery is granted importnat protections, although the word "slave" does not appear (The framers were skilled politicians, afterall ). The notorious Three-fifths clause ( Art. 1 Sec. 2 Cl. 3) - which counted three fifths of the slave population in apportioning representation - gave the South extra representation in the House and extra votes in the Electoral College. Thomas Jefferson would have lost the election of 1800 if not for the Three-fifths compromise. The Constitution also prohibited Congress from outlawing the Atlantic slave trade for twenty years ( Art. 1 Sec. 9 Cl. 1). A fugitive slave clause required the return of runaway slaves to their owners ( Art. 4 Sec. 2 Cl. 3). The Constitution gave the federal government the power to put down domestic rebellions, including slave insurrections ( Art. 1 Sec. 8 Cl. 15). Everybody likes to talk about the 14th amendment but the reality is that it's just that - an amendment, a hard won after thought that doesn't purge the original document of its inherent flaws.

I am not denying that the Consitution can be used for good. In fact, its greatest strenght is that it is a living document that can be used to meet the needs of each generation. But I want to point out that we should all be aware of what kind of a document it really is and who it was written for. "We the people" did not include black folk at the time the hallowed parment was penned. And if it includes us now, it is only becuase of the courage and bravery of those who came before us. And for all of the blood and tears that were shed , for the decades and lifetimes that were given over to the fight, we must recognize that the meager freedoms we do have are being chippped away at all the time.

The attack on our people today is more sophisiticated, it is more complicated it is harder to ferret out and expose. Rosa Parks diesd this week and civil rights movement has become a fashionable topic of conversation again. BUt what we need to realize is that the fight is FAR FROM OVER. I believe in non-violent civil disobedience, I belive in the dreams of MLK, but it is also important for use to realize that we should not be placated by the gais of a movement that is now almost 50 years old. Malcolm X once said of MLK: "He got the peace prize, we got the problem.... If I'm following a general, and he's leading me into a battle, and the enemy tends to give him rewards, or awards, I get suspicious of him. Especially if he gets a peace award before the war is over." It is not that Malcolm didn't see the iportance in Martin's work but what he understood when making that satement was that government-sponsored advances that were being made were bittersweet victories for black people. Bittersweet becuase while it is important, very important, to have a Voting Rights Act, to have a tilte VI and a title VII, we can't think that just because we have these things that the fight for freedom is over in anyway. Especially when we are dealing with the law because it remains a tool of opression even as it purports to free us. That's the nature of the set up. We still got the problem.

The problem is, once we have the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its progeney it becomes harder to openly address the opression that continue to plague us becuase the answer is "oh, didn't we already take care of that?"and "but you already have the right to vote!". But the reality is that whether we have the right to vote, wheter we have Title VI prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs receiving federal funding, whether we have Title VI protecting us from discrimination in employment, whether we have the fair housing act, the war is not over. We still got the problem! And the problem is in our schools, it is in our legislatures, it is in out courts, it is in our prisions; it is all around us. And it is not going away.

For example, according to the Bureau of justice, 12% of all black males in their twenties and early thirities are incarcerated compared to 1.6% of white males in the samae age group. If current rates of incarceration remain unchanged, 28.5 percent of black men will be confined in prison at least once during their lifetime, a figure six times greater than that for white men. As a result, nearly three in ten adult African American men will be temporarily or permanently deprived of the right to vote. But the total numbers of disenfranchised will be greater because it will include a substantial percentage of those convicted of a felony but not receiving a prison sentence (e.g., sentenced to probation). In states that disenfranchise ex-felons, it is estimated that 40 percent of the next generation of black men is likely to lose permanently the right to vote. Tell me that is not a problem.

God bless Rosa Parks for taking a stand On Thursday evening December 1, 1955. God Bless Martin Luther King, Jr. for having a dream. And God bless Malcolm X for reminding us that the struggle not over even if a few battles havea been won. The charge for our generation is to look to these leaders for inspiration and to move forward in our fight for freedom; to forward triumphantly because we have truth on our side.

1 Comments:

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Rod
commented by Blogger Rod, 7:30 PM  

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