Monday, June 29, 2009

Ricci Part 2: Revenge of the Fallen

They'rrrrrrrrrrrrre baaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!

Well that didn't take too long. A few days ago all anybody could think about was the loss of Michael Jackson, and now here comes something completely unrelated yet still controversial enough to jolt people out of their mourning with a nice dose of racially charged tomfoolery.

Today, the United States Supreme Court (the Court we all know and love) decided the case that we discussed here about a month ago: Ricci v. DeStefano. You may remember it as the "White Firefighters case" from Connecticut where the New Haven Fire Department administered a promotion test which had a clearly observable disparate impact against Blacks and other minorities (none of them passed). The City of New Haven threw out the test, thereby taking no action to promote anybody, and decided to redesign a less racially biased exam. The White Firefighters who had passed, led by the named plaintiff, Frank Ricci, filed suit against the City claiming that it was racial discrimination to throw out the racially biased exam, even if it did have a disparate impact against Blacks. In other words, it was racial discrimination for the City to take race into consideration.

At trial, Ricci and the gang lost. They appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals where Sonia Sotomayor and the rest of the 2nd Circuit heard the case. Ricci and the gang lost again. Then they appealed to the Supreme Court and today, they finally won the day. So tell 'em what they've won, Don Pardo:

Well Bob, today's contestants have won the right to royally confuse the hell out of all future courts and employers from this day forward as they try to figure out just exactly what is the point of having Civil Rights Laws in the workplace if you can now no longer use them!! Congratulations!!!

But Wait! That's not all!!! Today's contestants have also won 2,000 additional hours of question time at Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing as she tries to explain to congress how and why her court got overruled today.

And last but certainly not least, today's contestants have finally finally finally brought the Supreme Court one more landmark step closer to sending that wacky affirmative action idea to the grave where it belongs. You guys are awesome!!! Thanks for playing on Revenge of the Fallen!

I kid to keep from crying but, with regard to the last part, ladies and gentlemen, I do hope you all realize that even though this was not an affirmative action case, the time of affirmative action is now at a close. Stated differently, it's a rap, people. I hope we opened the door for enough people of color in higher education and in the work force because today's ruling represents the perfect alley-oop pass that sets up, quite beautifully, the slam dunk of affirmative action's death. I submit Exhibit A, today's CNN report on the aforementioned case, which provides in pertinent part:

"The Supreme Court was being asked to decide whether there was a continued need for special treatment for minorities, or whether enough progress has been made to make existing laws obsolete, especially in a political atmosphere in which an African-American occupies the White House."

200 years and 44 Presidents later, this country has, in 2008, elected its first and only Black President. Does that mean that enough progress has been made??? In other words, is Affirmative Action's time over??? And lastly, does today's ruling hurt Sotomayor's chances of being confirmed by the Senate???

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson - A Tribute to the King

(an excerpt from my book, "The Myth of Rock and Roll: The Racial Politics of American Popular Music; 1945-2005")

Michael Jackson - Rock’s greatest performing artist came of age when at ten years old, he led Motown’s most prolific group, the Jackson Five. A prodigy who had to be seen to be believed, Michael was a master showman who could hold his own with those far older and more experienced. But, as he progressed into his teen years, he displayed his skills as a songwriter as well as a profound understanding of music production. After teaming with Quincy Jones to produce the phenomenal “Off the Wall” in 1978, he established himself as one of rock and soul’s premiere artists, and its most exciting. However, with the release of “Thriller”, Michael obliterated all sales and popularity standards and achieved success only realized by Elvis and the Beatles. He had fused (with Quincy’s help) rock and soul as no one had done before, and had developed an electrifying dance style and artistry that transcended performance genres. Michael had elevated rock live performance to such a level that it (or rather he) was viewed and revered by dancers from ballet to modern. Every contemporary singer and performer in rock and roll has been influenced by him and his moves can be seen everywhere on television and on videos. In fact, he essentially made the music video industry. A fledgling promotional feature supporting artists’ records and tapes, Michael singlehandedly transformed the music video from a lame advertising technique to an event. Millions would wait for the premiere of each new MJ video, anticipating a new step or dance move. By the end of the 80s, Michael so outdistanced the rest of the rock world as a performer (only Prince could compete with him), that all others seemed virtual amateurs next to him. His televised routine during the Motown 25th Anniversary, as well as his HBO special live concert in Budapest, Hungary are unequaled spectacles. A great vocalist and underrated writer, Michael’s later work in the 90s has not received the credit it deserved. Notwithstanding his public and personal problems, he is unquestionably without peer.

Tribute to Michael

"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up DOES rejoice. Still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they're gone. I guess I just miss my friend."
Red, Shawshank Redemption

Ladies and Gentlemen, my stomach truly dropped today and an unanticipated wave of emotion came over me that I can't quite explain. Michael Jackson is dead. Even those words don't seem real. How can Michael Jackson die? He's Michael Jackson! We grew up with Mike, we watched him in awe, he inspired us, he motivated us, he entertained us, he moonwalked, he intrigued us, he made his own way, he had his own style, he defined cool, his influence was undeniably present in all of the Ushers and Ginuwines and NSyncs, etc. of the music industry, he was of us, be belonged to us, and most importantly he was loved by all of us. It is difficult to imagine any single person on the face of the Earth in our lifetime who has positively effected as many people as Michael Jackson. And with his passing, we are reminded again of just how precious life is.
Seeing the passing of Michael Jackson, somebody who was a household name for so many growing up, it makes me wonder what will be said about us hopefully many many many years from now when we depart from this Earth. We may never be as big as Mike, but I think that if we can just impact a fraction of the lives that this man did, we will have lived a pretty successful life by anybody's book.

Thus, in the spirit of remembering the man, the myth, and the legend that is Michael Jackson, I invite folks to share whatever memories stick out in your mind when you think about Mike. For me, it's easy: I'm in kindergarten or first grade and I'm
at home with my brother and two sisters at the time eagerly anticipating the appearance of Mike at the Grammy's. The buzz all day long at school had been that he was going to perform on TV that night so, naturally, we were glued to the set, all four of us sitting on our living room floor Indian style. And then it happened...I can hear the Billy Jean beat drop...MJ standing there with "The Glove"...then the cool stance that was so cool he had cool falling out of his pockets...the crowd of grown ass people in the audience screaming like little girls as they clapped along to the my brother and sisters screaming right along with them like we had no home training dad unable to shut any of us up...BOOM! - he goes in for the crotch grip and we instantly stand up and start to imitate him much to my dad's dismay...then he takes the hat and throws it off stage - classic!...and then it happened...the moment that would define our generation...The Moonwalk!!!! The 4 of us in front of the old Zenith: "Whoa!!!!" "Did he just?..." "Wow!" "Did you see that?!?!" "Mom, look-it look-it!!! You missed it!!!" The following day at school was visually inundated with elementary school kids all indiscriminately Moonwalking their way through the halls of school at any given moment. Moonwalk in line for lunch, Moonwalk in the line at the bus stop, Moonwalk in gym class, Moonwalk during silent reading time, Moonwalk at recess, Moonwalk during school couldn't stop us from Moonwalking. Life was never quite the same after that. And when "Beat It" dropped, if you didn't have a red Beat It jacket with all the zippers, you were instantly in the uncool crowd. However, little did we know, months later the opportunity to redeem yourself would come in the form of the Thriller Jacket for those whose parents weren't quick on the draw when the Beat It Jacket dropped. Those were the days.

So what do you remember about Mike?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Uh uh oh, Beyoncé!

There's a story that has been receiving all kinds of buzz out here lately in New York that reads like a bad bar exam question on contracts. Over on the West Side of Manhattan in the part of town known as Chelsea, there's a lounge called M2 Ultra Lounge (for all my NY'ers out there, this is the spot formerly known as Mansion). The lounge owner, a cat by the name of Joey Morrissey, had a written contract agreeing to pay $200,000 to entertainer Beyoncé Knowles for her agreement to perform appear at his venue on Saturday night, June 20, 2009. (see flier below)

In reliance upon her arrival, the lounge owner alleges that he went out and spent close to $100,000 on sound equipment, staging, tables, decorations, catering and other costs.

On Wednesday, June 17, 2009, just 3 days before the performance date, Beyoncé's representatives called and cancelled her appearance, citing time constraints associated with her new upcoming tour as the reason (although the word on the street out here is that the real reason was because Beyoncé got into an argument with sister Solange). At any rate, the singer breached her end of the contract, but she offered to mitigate the damages by agreeing to show up for an hour at the lounge. The lounge owner declined, stating that a 1 hour appearance was not the deal. He now seeks to be reimbursed for his $100,000. It should be noted that Mathew Knowles (Beyoncé's father and manager) stated that the $200,000 contract payment was never made by the lounge owner.

This is the party of the exam where it says something like "Write an essay outlining all viable claims that each party would raise both on the contract and in equity, and all applicable defenses. You have 15 minutes. Go!" ***BARF!!!***

It's been a few years since I've taken contracts (thank God!) but sounds like this guy has a strong reliance claim for damages based on a legal term we call promissory estoppel, which is simply a legalese way of saying that you had an agreement with somebody, you relied on their word and took steps to honor the agreement that cost you something, and they backed out of the agreement after you took steps to make the agreement happen.

But Beyoncé has a good counter argument to that because she did allow the lounge owner a chance to mitigate the damages by showing up, even if it was just for an hour.

So, Who was in the Wrong here and Who Wins?*1

EDIT: Link to the event flier HERE.

EDIT: Link to a pdf of the Contract HERE.

Folks, we have the Contract (see link above in the EDIT) and it is not looking good for the lounge owner.

In fact, I am officially calling shenanigans on him and especially on the media!!!!

In pertinent part, the Contract specifically states:

"Artist [Beyoncé] to appear at venue for a total of one (1) hour."

"It is expressly acknowledged and agreed that Artist [Beyoncé] shall not render performances of any kind (musical or otherwise) at the event."

"Concurrently with the execution hereof, and as a condition of this Agreement, PURCHASER [club owner & affiliates] shall enter into a separate agreement for the services of Solange Knowles to perform at the event described herein.

So the deal was ALWAYS for an appearance only. So all those news media outlets that are spinning this as Beyoncé backing out of a performance are full of you know what and need to get their facts straight.

However, there is a little wrinkle in the Contract for the Knowles family (and this may be what Mathew Knowles was referring to when he said they never received any money) because the Contrct also provides as follows:

"50% deposit payment ($100,000) shall be made no later than June 15, 2009, and balance payment ($100,000) shall be made no later than Friday, June 19th, 2009 at/or before 5:00PM EST via financial wire transaction to the following account: [account info]"

So the REAL issue here is whether or not the lounge owner made the deposit or not, as he was required to do in the Contract. If he didn't, then he breached the Contract and Beyoncé would have the right, under Anticipatory Repudiation, to rescind the Contract and not show up. If, on the other hand, the lounge owner did make the deposit, then Beyoncé breached and owes him at least the $100,000 deposit, plus possible damages associated with her breach.

*1 - My money is on Beyoncé. Not because I agree with her position or anything, but because her dad is a beast when it comes to business disputes. Don't believe me? Just ask the dozen sisters whose names you don't remember anymore that used to be in Destiny's Child! One minute they're flying in private jets on tour and staying in the finest hotels all around the world, the next minute they're riding the bus and living with their mama.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

You Have the Right to a Fair Trial...Except for DNA Evidence That Is.

You didn't think I was going to let this one slide, did you? Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case District Attorney's Office v. Osborne*1, which was an Alaskan case about a Black man, William Osborne, who was convicted of kidnapping and raping a white woman in 1994. During the rape trial, the Alaskan crime lab tested sperm from a condom found at the scene of the crime using a low level DNA test known as the "DQ Alpha" test, which, in its limited utility, was only able to identify that the DNA in the condom was a type of DNA commonly found in African American men. (Osborne is African American) There was another more sophisticated DNA test available during that time known as the "RFLP" test which could have pinpointed any given sample of DNA down to an accuracy level of one in a billion people. However, after the first test showed that an African American likely committed the crime, William Osborne's defense attorney, as a strategic matter, did not want to pursue the second test because if the test showed that Osborne's DNA matched that of the condom it would scientifically and irrefutably prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Osborne was later convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. After his conviction, he demanded that the DNA evidence from the condom be allowed into evidence to conclusively prove his innocence (or his guilt, depending on the results of course).

From prison, Osborne sued the state of Alaska using a civil rights lawsuit, as opposed to bringing the case through the traditional Habeas Corpus procedure. A Habeas Corpus petition is a special type of lawsuit that allows people who have been convicted of crimes to contest their convictions while they are still in jail based on the grounds that something unconstitutional happened during their trial. In this case, Osborne alleged that the state of Alaska violated his right to Due Process by withholding the DNA evidence that could have exonerated him.

The Federal District Court hearing the case tossed it out because Osborne didn't bring the Constitutional challenge against his conviction through the Habeas Corpus process. The Habeas Corpus process, per the AEDPA passed by congress in 1996, requires you to exhaust all 3 levels (trial, appellate, and supreme) of the state courts FIRST before you are allowed to bring the Habeas Corpus petition into a Federal court.*2 The process of going through all 3 levels of state court, as you can imagine, can literally take years. Thus, Osborne appealed his civil rights law suit to the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit agreed with him and overruled the Federal District Court. The state of Alaska, of course, appealed the 9th Circuit decision to the United States Supreme Court, which brings us to last Thursday's decision.

The conservative block of the court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts who authored the Court's decision, ruled 5-4 that states like Alaska are under no Constitutional obligation whatsoever to cough up DNA evidence to a person like Osborne after the trial is over. Before the trial and during the trial, sure. But after the trial, no dice. So even if there is DNA evidence that could prove your innocence and get you out of jail and out of the taxpayer's pocket (something conservatives should like right?), you have no Constitutional right to it. Roberts, instead, says that it is up to each state to decide if they want to give it to you or not. What a shocker. Oh and by the way, Alaska is one of six states in which inmates have no statutory rights to access DNA evidence after trial. I guess Roberts forgot to mention that part. Oops. I'm sure that fact played absolutely no part in Roberts' decision to send this one back to the state though right?

To add insult to injury, Roberts went on to say that if Osborne had brought the suit through a Habeas Corpus petition, instead of through a civil rights law suit, then he would have had a right to the DNA evidence from the state. Right...because expending 1000's of hours of state resources and 10's of 1000's (if not 100's of 1000's) in tax payer dollars to argue against a convict at all 3 levels of state courts over a 5 or 10 year time period is a faaaaaaaaaar more efficient system than just handing over the DNA evidence after trial when they ask for it. Since when did we start playing hide-the-ball with evidence that can clear people? Good job, Roberts.*3

So the ultimate question here is, of course, whether the Court got it right. In other words, should people who are convicted of crimes who are attempting to prove their innocence have a RIGHT to access DNA evidence from the state that convicted them after their trial is over?

*1 - District Attorney's Office for the Third Judicial District et. al. v. Osborn, 557 U.S. ____, June 18, 2009.

*2 - I need a whole other blog to go off about the filth that is the AEDPA. It makes it extremely difficult for convicted criminals to bring Habeas Corpus challenges to their convictions into federal courts. Stated differently, the AEDPA effectively killed Habeas Corpus. Habeas Corpus petitions were already hard to win before the AEDPA was passed, but now they are virtually impossible to win. As an example of how rarely Habeas Corpus petitions are granted, when I was an intern for a Federal judge in NYC's Federal District Court (Southern District of New York), I wrote a court opinion for my judge that actually granted a prisoner's Habeas Corpus petition. As a testament to its uniqueness, it made the New York Times and the front page of the New York Law Journal. That's how rare these things are!!! You have a better shot at winning the pick 5 lotto than winning a Habeas Corpus petition in Federal Court.

*3 - Speaking of Chief Justice Roberts, Jeffrey Toobin did an exposé on Roberts in the New Yorker which should put the Osborn decision into some context:

"In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party."

Friday, June 19, 2009


Miracles never cease! There Must Be a God! The US Senate apologized for slavery and Apartheid (Jim Crow); and Chris Matthews (HardBall) called for a reparations bill !!!!!!!! Can't believe what I'm hearing. HAPPY JUNETEENTH

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Guest Post: Educated Black Men - Gift or Curse to Black Women?

On a non-political note, we have our first Dear Abby letter coming in from a young lady who is rather frustrated with dating brothers who have advancedl degrees from well-to-do schools. In particular, our guest today seems to have experienced a run of bad luck with black male lawyers. Her story below:


Dear Urban Politico,

So lately I’ve been hanging out with an attorney who is the head of a prominent legal organization - initially to get him to be my mentor or to pick his brain about legal issues. So after a few business dinners, guy comes out and says he has no interest in being my mentor but being my boyfriend. I didn’t mean to but I literally laughed out loud and just said “I really don’t want a boyfriend right now”. So he laughs and goes in for a kiss and says “it’s so cute that you’re acting so noncommittal”. My response (after I do my basketball-inspired-spinoff move to block the kiss): “Who’s ‘acting’? I’m for real. I know that may sound unusual that a woman doesn’t want a boyfriend but I really & truly don’t. You should know I’m dating other people- a lot. And I enjoy our conversations so we could hang out but that’s about it. We can hang out to see what’s what at a later date. In contemplation of it possibly being more.”

So we do. He sends for me to come to visit him in LA, pays for everything of course (gentlemanly thing to do plus I’m broke and he knows it), he makes a trip to San Fran to come see me, gives me some really good advice regarding my career. Good stuff. Although he kept getting upset that it seemed that I wasn’t “emotionally involved” with him yet.

Herein lies the issue: I came across an article congratulating him on being elevated to his current office that says “he lives with his WIFE and 2 kids at home and 1 in college”. Umm, wait a minute - his office is only for 1 year so the article must be fairly recent and when we were out at dinner the first time, he referred to his “Ex-wife” and “2” kids. I don’t care if a brother has kids but dammit, what’s up with the lying?! He has 3 kids and technically that’s still his wife even though he claims that they’re splitting up!

So when he last came to San Fran just to see me I referred to the article. There he was trying to put the moves on me after we went to some fancy steak house and I’m trying to get the details on this situation. Sounds to me like he isn’t being totally truthful and he kept trying to cut me off - which is my biggest pet peeve since I don’t really talk a whole lot. I said until there’s a divorce decree in my hand or I see the first page of the complaint (he said he filed already), ain't nothing going down. No more hanging out lest some woman come up out the bushes trying to cut me. I know folks date when they’re separated but I’m not interested in being "the other woman" and I don’t appreciate the lying. [He also lied about his age - and I’m quite the “age-ist”. I generally only date brothers that are about 2-3 years older than me. He’s about 25 years older.] So I left the horny bastard in the hotel room!

So here’s my beef. I like dating black men of course and would never give that up. That’s all I keep running into but it’s been my experience that black male attorneys expect a lot without giving a whole bunch in return. They have an air about them that says “you should feel lucky by dating me since I’m so successful”. Now as you may have gathered, I’m afrocentric so honestly in a sistah-to-brotha-black power sort of way, I’m proud of their accomplishments. Does the soul good to see a brother doing well. But dating-wise I’ve never been impressed by that sort of stuff. All I care about is the way they treat me. It’s getting to the point where if I see an attractive guy and he says he’s an attorney, I run the other way! I just expect the dude to make plans last minute, want to stay in the house, generally want things his way, “lawyer” me. LOL, What’s up with ya’ll?

Monday, June 15, 2009

It’s More Complicated Than Race, But It Still Matters

I’ve wanted to chime in on the very good article by Brother, The Janitor, on the New Haven firefighters legal case. Needless to say I can’t get to things when I want to, moreover, other developments in the news demand some comments, and they actually relate to the firefighters episode. The New Haven case brings the question of racial preferences to the forefront of political discourse and has been referenced recently in attacks on Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.

What seems obvious to me, is that the parameters in which racial preferences are discussed are as narrow as the prevailing Supreme Court interpretation of affirmative action, its appropriate uses and application. That interpretation essentially is defined as “strict scrutiny”, which concludes that race can be considered in public policy decision making but only after race neutral means have been exhausted. I may be treading on thin ice when I say this, but I’m not totally opposed to this view. I am quite disgusted however that those of us that consider ourselves of the progressive wing of the black community have not done a better job of framing the broader, global discussion of race.

We’re missing the rhetorical and philosophical boat in two respects. First, regarding policy issues, I believe we can enhance the discussion of preferences by considering taboo concepts like quotas as well as the conventional “strict scrutiny” argument. When it comes to economics and international trade, quotas have been a legitimate issue that has benefited American industries, despite the fact that some conservatives disparage the notion when it’s not in the interest of corporations in their state. With respect to hiring and contracting, we’re talking, at least to some degree, about taxation without representation. In cities with 40%, 50% or even higher rates of black or other minority representation (I guess that wouldn’t make them a minority would it?), there should, no, must be some baseline range of representation and inclusion of minorities. But, I certainly don’t want firefighters or police personnel that are unqualified. Reasonable policies and programs can be drafted that ensure representation without demonizing racial groups, yet maintain high standards.

The second aspect of the racial preferences discussion that we fail to lead is that of the morality of the country’s past racist practices. And, since we avoid talking about the sheer nature and depravity of American racism, we never discuss reparations. At some point we must hold this country accountable for 246 years of slavery and another 100 or so of state sponsored oppression. This is not a question of policy or how government and society treat other minorities and women. This is about the crime against the humanity of African Americans because of their color. The crime was directed at black people. The answer must benefit the victims and their progeny - black people.

For too long we’ve tried to deal with a question of criminality through political means with the intent of arriving at sociological outcomes. Those outcomes are important (non-discriminatory practices in the workplace, public accommodations, etc.), but frankly, most of these issues, even voting rights, were determined illegal a century ago. No one has the right to deny other citizens their rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The problem has always been one of law enforcement.

It was never a question whether black people were being oppressed. Indeed their rights were fully violated in front of God and the whole world. Rather than prosecuting states, terrorist groups and individuals for their crimes and then compensating the victims, the civil rights legal “victories” in the 60s established laws that were essentially unnecessary. So, governing entities responsible for two centuries of exploitation and oppression promise “not to do it anymore” and the liberal white and Negro professional establishment embarks on experimental social engineering exercises rather than demanding more equal distribution of public resources, true self-determinant political power and remuneration for historical and current grievances.

Only the American Negro seems content with the “we won’t do it again but please don’t ask us to pay for our crimes” legal rationale. (That’s actually not true but clarifying this point would require another article.) We must, much sooner than later, demand that Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas, et. al., explain before a court of law why they do not owe black citizens (and/or their descendents) of their states a hell of a lot of everything.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hip Hopper-In-Chief

A few months back we explored the Baby Boy Legacy, a legacy defined by the unfortunate yet far too prevalent phenomenon of fatherless sons within the black community passing down their failed practices and bad habits to their sons, who in turn, continue to perpetuate the cycle by passing these lessons on to their sons. Absenteeism and apathy are the hallmarks of this legacy. Nowhere is this legacy more pronounced than in our generation, the hip hop generation. However, there is a new sheriff in town.

The Obama family is having an unmeasurable impact on the American people and indeed the world. The question remains, however, if their impact can penetrate the community that arguably needs it the most - the black community. And not just the black community in general, but specifically speaking, can the Obama impact reach our generation, generation hip hop, including the segment that is most prone to fall victim to the Baby Boy Legacy? In other words, is there any hope of reaching Black folks in the 'hood?

As one guest commentator stated:

"Oh, and don't expect to use the Obamas as role models of anything for poor and working-class Black people. While many Blacks of all economic levels voted for him...I've noticed that much of the messianic idol worship of him is principally among middle-income and affluent Blacks."

Although commercial hip hop has always enjoyed mass appeal, especially with White sub-urban kids all across America who continue to constitute its largest sales demographic to this day, true hip hop still remains largely as a vehicle for Black artists from the 'hood to express the views by the 'hood, of the 'hood, and for the 'hood. (see Young Jeezy & Jay-Z youtube video, supra)

Slowly but surely, we are seeing "Obama" integrated into more and more rap lyrics as a metaphor or simile referencing positivity, pride, and most importantly, inspiration for poor and working-class Blacks to do better.

"my president is black in fact he's half white,
so even in a racist mind he's half right,
if you got a racist mind that's alright,
my president is black but his house is all white.
rosa parks sat so martin luther could walk,
martin luther walked so barack obama could run,
barack obama ran so all the children could fly,
so ima spread my wings you can meet me in the sky"
- Jay-Z, Young Jeezy "My President is Black"

"You've been seein' me lately,
I'm a miracle baby
I refuse to lose
This what the ghetto done made me
I put that on my father
Tryna hope for tomorrow
When I think that I can't,
I envision Obama"
- Maino, "All the Above"

Positive references to Michelle and Barack have been popping up in more and more hip hop and R&B songs since the inauguration, which would suggest that the Black community, including the subset of poor and working-class Blacks, are being impacted by the positive role model that the Obamas are displaying. The question remains, however, if this inspiration will be enough to actually effect the Baby Boy Legacy. Even if the Obama effect can't stop the Baby Boy Legacy, does it at least have the potential to place a nice sized dent in the anti-intellectualism movement that has plagued the poor and working-class Blacks since the sunset of the Civil Rights Movement?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Don't Mess with Texas, Black Men. No Really.

This is one of those cases that makes me want to take my Criminal Law & Criminal Procedure textbooks off the shelf, march down to the courthouse in east Texas, sit the prosecutor, judge and defense attorney down like kindergartners, open up to chapter one and start taking folks to school. In fact, the only thing more infuriating about this case than the failed manner in which it has been handled is the very peculiar yet painfully obvious manner in which it has NOT received national press attention. So pardon me for a moment while I spread the word.

Many of you might recall the national news headlines back in 1998 about then 49-year-old James Byrd, Jr., a black man in Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to death from the back of a pickup truck by three white men: Shawn Allen Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John William King. Those three men were subsequently convicted of murder and are serving life sentences in jail; two are on death row. Unfortunately, this is not even the story I'm referring to above.

No I'm talking about the other black man who was dragged to death from a pickup truck in Texas. Texas seems to have a thing about black men and pickup trucks. What's that about anyway?

At any rate, in September of 2008, the two white men pictured above, Charles Crostley (L) and Shannon Finley (R), of Paris, Texas (a town about 90 miles northeast of Dallas) decided to go on a beer run to Oklahoma with the black male victim, 24-year-old Brandon McClelland. The three young men knew each other from Paris, Texas. Somewhere along the way back from the beer run, according to Crostley and Finley, an argument ensued, and Brandon got out of the truck to walk home. At that time, according to police reports, Finley (who was driving) turned the truck around and ran over Brandon, dragging his body underneath the pickup truck for over 70 feet. The remains of Brandon's body were later found by the road in question. The two men were subsequently arrested and charged with the murder of Brandon McClelland.

Then, in an interesting twist of events, 8 months later (May 2009) a truck driver came to authorities and said that he might have accidental ran over Brandon on the road. It is unclear if he meant that he ran over Brandon as Brandon was walking down the street, or if he meant that he ran over Brandon's body that was left by the side of the road after Finley had already driven over him. In any event, the Prosecutor*1 who's name I would also like to mention for the record, Mr. Toby Shook, a graduate of the Texas Tech School of Law who quit the Prosecutor's office and now works for a criminal defense law firm, said "[a]fter investigation, it has been determined this case should be dismissed in the interests of justice." Shook then added that "[t]he decision [to dismiss the case] is about the state of the evidence in the case as it exists today." It is notable to observe that the case was also dismissed against the truck driver as well, who actually was never charged with any crime in the first place. No, I'm not making this up.

So to recap, a 24-year-old black kid is clearly run over and killed by somebody's truck, (bodies usually don't drag themselves down the street on their own) and the obvious legal response to such a crime, as Shook understands it, is to round up any and all suspects and then...let everybody go?


By the way, if any of you are interested in earning a cracker jack box law degree with very little studying, go see the people in admissions over at Texas Tech School of Law. I hear they have plenty of openings. (*joking of course but you see my frustration*)

Texas Penal Code Title 5, Chapter 19.01 defines homicide as follows: "A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual. Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide."

The subsequent sections further define each sub-group of homicide and list the elements that, when satisfied, require a prosecutor to file the appropriate charge of homicide against the suspect or suspects in question. When I hear this case, murder, manslaughter, and possibly negligent homicide all come to mind, yet you're telling me that none of these charges are applicable in the current case? Moreover, I find it extremely difficult to believe that there is a lack of physical evidence, as the prosecution claims here, when you have a dead body, spatters of blood that can be detected, and vehicles that can be inspected. Surely, in 2009, with all of our great CSI gadgets and gizmos, some modicum of evidence exists that would connect Brandon's DNA with somebody's truck.

The prosecutor stated that the case should be dismissed "in the interest of justice." I submit that this statement could not be further from the truth. The "interest of justice" requires the state of Texas, acting through the prosecutor's office as its agent, to protect the citizens of Texas against crimes such as these. To act otherwise, as the prosecution has done here, is not only a slap in the face to the parents and family members of Brandon McClelland, it is also a slap in the face of justice.

*1. On November 13, 2008 McCelland's family members, along with the New Black Panther Party, called for the original prosecutor, Lamar County and District Attorney Gary Young, to recuse himself from the case because Mr. Young served in 2003 as a court-appointed public defender for Shannon Finley, the driver of the pickup truck alleged to have run over and killed Brandon McClelland. Since there was a conflict of interest, Mr. Young recused himself from the case and was replaced by Toby Shook, who I lambasted above. On a very important side note, it appears Shannon Finley has a bit of a violent record. In that case back in 2003, Finley was charged with murder and he eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter for fatally shooting a friend of his in the head. He served four years in prison over the incident. It would appear that Shannon Finley has a little bit of a hard time resisting the urge to kill his "friends."

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wichita, Kansas: Where Pro-Life = Pro-Death?

Back in my home state of Kansas, they do things a little bit differently. They drive Ford F-150 pickup trucks everywhere they go and don't really believe in taxi's or subways or any significant public transportation of any kind. The vast majority of the state makes far less than $250,000 a year, yet it still votes Republican in every presidential election, and has done so for the past 100 years with few exceptions.*1 In Kansas, if you are so inclined you can legally carry a loaded concealed gun into AppleBee's as you order your chicken-riblet basket and diet coke.*2 And speaking of concealed weapons, if you are Pro-Choice in Kansas you might wanna watch out, because apparently Pro-Lifers will walk up into your Church and shoot you dead where you stand to make their point.

Yesterday, Doctor George Tiller (pictured left), a doctor at a Wichita abortion clinic, was shot dead while he was attending Church with his family by Pro-Life activist Scott Roeder of Kansas City. This was not the first time that this particular abortion services doctor had been attacked in Kansas. Another Pro-Life activist shot Dr. Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed by abortion protesters in 1985. To make matters worse, antiabortion activist leader Randall Terry today said Dr. Tiller "was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed." Although each camp (and even President Obama) has officially denounced this act of violence, this begs the question as to which side in this debate is supposed to be "pro-life" exactly?

As much as I like to pick on my home state, this is not the only state to perpetrate violence against an abortion services doctor. In 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot and killed in his home by a Pro-Life activist in Buffalo, NY. And we can go down the line of other states where abortion clinics have been fire bombed, abortion doctors and nurses harassed, beaten or killed, etc. Both sides of the abortion debate feel passionately about their cause, and rightfully so. And both sides of the abortion debate denounce acts of violence, such as the aforementioned shootings. Indeed just a few weeks ago when President Obama gave his address to the graduating class at Notre Dame, he urged both sides to treat each other with respect, even if we disagree. But when we look at the history of incidents surrounding the abortion debate, a pattern seems to emerge on the Pro-Life side as the side that, ironically, resorts to violence and/or death to make the point that human life is to be valued at all costs.

Even though it would be illogical to use inductive reasoning to impute the rash actions of the few onto the many, the question I submit is this: in the court of public opinion, do actions like these taint the Pro-Life movement as one of hypocrisy?

*1 - Since Kansas became a state in 1861, it has only voted Democratic 6 times: 1896, 1912, 1916, 1932, 1936, and 1964.

*2 - In March 2006, the Kansas Legislature overrode then Governor Kathleen Sebelius' veto to outlaw concealed weapons in Kansas, making Kansas the latest of 34 states that permit people to carry concealed weapons in public.