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“How Pathetically Low Diversity Is On Capitol Hill”: The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body

In the last couple of years racial politics have dominated our political discourse. Regardless of party affiliation or racial identification, most Americans have probably grown to agree on at least one thing: There are no easy policy solutions for solving America’s racial discord and the inequality that fuels it. But I would go a step further and say this is even truer with the current Congress we have in place. While lack of bipartisanship gets most of the credit, or rather blame, for the ineffectiveness of the American Congress, new data highlight another culprit: lack of diversity among senior Senate aides.

A new report out from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found that “(p)eople of color make up over 36 percent of the U.S. population, but only 7.1 percent of top Senate staffers.” While the numbers are not good for any ethnic minority population, they are abysmal for black Americans. According to the report, “African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers.” This is particularly troubling given how lacking in diversity the Senate already is. There are currently two African Americans serving in the U.S. Senate (Cory Booker of New Jersey and Tim Scott of South Carolina), one Asian American (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and two Hispanic Americans (Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas.)

But lack of racial diversity isn’t the only problem plaguing Congress. Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of members of Congress reported being millionaires. This in an age in which the median wealth of America’s middle class is just over $44,000.

Now I’m not here to argue that white millionaires should be excluded from Congress. But I am here to argue that they shouldn’t comprise most of Congress.

Why?

Well for starters, ideally we should have a legislative body reflective of the people it represents. But beyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems.

For instance, for years there has been little done at a federal level to address the issue of racial profiling or police brutality. The reason is not hard to understand: For a white member of Congress who has likely been treated with respect and deference by most members of law enforcement he or she has come into contact with, it’s easy to fathom that he would not consider this a serious or prevalent issue.

Thanks to camera phones, now many elected officials know what black Americans have known all along: There are great members of law enforcement, but there are also far too many who abuse their power and position. Just think for a moment how many lives may have been saved if elected officials, either from their own experiences, or the experiences of their senior aides, had known to prioritize this issue years ago. It is not a coincidence that a black senator, Tim Scott, has been a driving force behind efforts to secure additional federal funding for body cameras for law enforcement to help address this issue.

Similarly, it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office. Neither he nor his wife came from wealthy backgrounds, and financial aid enabled them both to attend elite universities that allowed them entrée into the halls of power in which they now reside. Is it possible that another president could have been knowledgeable on this issue? Sure. But consider this: Gov. Mitt Romney, President Obama’s opponent in the last presidential election, came from a wealthy and prominent family, so he never endured the hardship of not knowing whether he would graduate college because of his financial status—something I and millions of other Americans have endured.

To be clear, the issue of diversity, or rather lack thereof, within the Senate is not party specific. The Joint Center report notes that while African Americans vote overwhelmingly Democratic, black Americans comprise just .7 percent of top Democratic Senate posts. It could be argued that lack of diversity among Senate aides is even more problematic than lack of diversity among elected officials because senior aides do much of the heaving lifting when it comes to actually writing legislation. So what can be done to change things?

For starters, elected officials and the parties that support them need to make a concerted effort to diversify their internship pools. As someone who started her career as an intern, I speak from experience when I say it is not uncommon to see the most plum internships for prominent candidates and in prominent offices become a resting place for the children of political donors and their friends. These internships can often serve as a pipeline to jobs in the Senate or the White House down the road.

Additionally, both major parties need to begin setting aside some of the money they reserve for attack ads on each other for money to be spent on well-paid racial and class diversity fellowships. Very few young people, except the children of wealthy donors or the wealthy period, can afford to work on campaigns for next to nothing and live with the financial instability early campaign life provides.

But I would say the real responsibility falls into the hands of those of us who claim we’re fed up with our do-nothing Congress. If we’re not happy with them, simply threatening to throw them out during the next election cycle is not enough. We should be asking them the right questions while they’re there representing us. But how many of us bother to ask who our elected officials hire once they get in office? And whether those people are representative of us and have our best interests at heart? In the same way we demand our elected officials keep us updated on their legislative accomplishments, why don’t we demand more regular transparency on who they are surrounding themselves with?

For anything to really change, more of us fed up non-millionaires need to be willing to run for office, or encourage someone we trust to. Or at the very least we need to tell as many bright, young people from underrepresented groups that we can that if they really want to make a difference instead of just expressing outrage on social media, they should become a Senate aide.

 

By: Keli Goff, The Daily Beast, December 27, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Diversity, Racial Inequality, Senate | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Out Of Control Now”: First, Donald Trump Came For The Muslims

I have never truly feared for the well-being of my family or friends because of the words uttered by an American politician. But that has changed after Donald Trump’s comments over the past few days about Muslims.

When I tell you that Trump’s remarks about what he has planned for Muslims in America if elected president are bone chilling, I’m not exaggerating. But to me the most frightening—and yes, I mean frightening—incident in all of this is what happened Saturday at Trump’s rally in Birmingham, Alabama.  It was not just his words, but the way Trump conveyed them and the setting that conjured up a truly dark time in human history.

During his rally Saturday deep in the heart of Dixie, Trump told the crowd of thousands in no uncertain terms what Muslims could expect if he leads our nation. “Just to set it clear,” Trump stated, pausing slightly for dramatic effect. A sternness then came over his face as he declared emphatically: “I want surveillance of these people.”

You see to Trump, we are not your fellow Americans who are teachers, doctors, taxi drivers, member of Congress, etc. No, he has dehumanized us into a faceless group he calls “these people.” And Trump has unilaterally determined that “these people,” Muslim Americans, are not worthy of the same rights as other Americans. That we, Muslims, are less than fully American simply because of our faith.

Trump then implored the crowd to cheer for his plan that would strip the constitutional rights of a minority group in America with the call, “Are you ready for this? Are you ready?” And on cue, thousands in the crowd cheered as their leader beckoned.

Then something else happened at the event that should give all Americans pause. In this sea of adoring Trump fans stood a black man by the name of Mercutio Southall Jr., a well known local activist. Southall had been shouting “Black Lives Matters,” which had so upset Trump supporters that some began to assault him.

Trump, who later admitted that he had been annoyed with the interruptions by this black activist, can be heard bellowing out to his followers as they are assaulting Southall: “Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Adding, “Get him out of here. Throw him out!

And shockingly on Sunday morning when Trump was asked on Fox News about the assault of Southall, he defended it: “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.

But Trump’s demonization of minorities in his quest for power didn’t begin or end on Saturday. He launched his presidential campaign in June in a way that earned him the praise of white supremacist groups for his demonization of Latino immigrants. But I’m sure Trump was already on the radar of these hate groups, which he has refused to denounce, given his infamous racist birther campaign versus President Obama.

And earlier last week, Trump commented to a reporter that he was open to creating a Muslim database and possibly even requiring Muslims to carry special ID cards.

Trump has also doubled down in the past few days on his pledge to order warrantless spying on Muslim Americans and even to close down American mosques. This is no different than racial profiling of Latinos and blacks and it’s no less unconstitutional.

Trump, however, was not done with his Muslim bashing.  In fact, he upped it Saturday by claiming that “thousands and thousands” of Arabs and Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the World Trade Center came down on 9/11. This is a lie. And that’s not a matter of opinion, it’s fact. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos challenged Trump on Sunday, telling the GOP’s leading candidate point blank that the “police say it didn’t happen.” Yet Trump refused to back down, claiming he saw this on television 14 years ago.

The bigger question here is why Trump would even bring up this incident that occurred more than 14 years ago? How is it relevant to the key issues in the 2016 presidential campaign? It’s not. It simply plays well with the GOP base. In fact, just a few days before Trump began his jihad versus Muslims, a poll was released finding that three-quarters of Republicans think Islam is “at odds” with American values. Trump’s demonization of Muslims, as well as other minority groups, is simply part of his strategy to achieve power.

Thankfully, we have seen a cross section of Americans pushing back against Trump’s hate. Therein lies the silver lining. On the claim that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11, numerous elected official from the Garden State have made it clear that Trump is absolutely wrong. These include the current mayor of Jersey City and longtime New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who tweeted bluntly:  “To Trump: Stop your inflammatory lies about Americans.

Even the Anti Defamation League (ADL) swiftly condemned Trump, telling BuzzFeed that Trump is “giving new life to long-debunked conspiracy theories about 9/11.” The ADL dubbed it a “a variation of the anti-Semitic myth that a group of Israelis were seen celebrating as the Twin Towers fell.”

And many on social media made it clear that if Trump ever required American Muslims to register with the government, they would too, even they weren’t Muslim. One of the most moving shows of support came from Rabbi Joshua Stanton, a man who says he tries to avoid politics, but still felt compelled to pen a touching article titled, “Register Me, Too, Mr. Trump.

The GOP is at a crossroads that will define its party for years.  They can nominate Trump, a man who has demonized American minority groups, or choose someone who truly embraces American values. But if Trump is the Republican presidential nominee in 2016, they will have made it clear to America that the Grand Old Party is no longer the party of Lincoln, but the party of hate.

 

By: Dean Obeidallah, The Daily Beast, November 23, 2015

November 24, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Donald Trump, Muslim Americans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Papers Please”: Remember What Happened The Last Time A Republican President Had A ‘Round Up Of Illegal’ Immigrants?

Ed Kilgore is right to be…um…”skeptical” that Peggy Noonan has tapped into some great Latino love for Donald Trump. She found one Dominican who is angry at illegal immigrants. Noonan bought his story because that’s what she wants to believe.

But I’ll give you one good reason why most brown people (Latino as well as other nationalities) in this country are terrified of what Donald Trump is saying he would do. It’s because some of them (and a few of us) remember what happened the last time a Republican president decided to round up a bunch of illegal immigrants and ship them home. We remember because it wasn’t that long ago.

Here’s what happened when ICE raided Howard Industries in Laurel, MS in 2008.

ICE´s approach humiliated all Latino workers in the plant with their Racial Profiling. Witnesses said ICE provided all White and Black workers Blue Armbands. All the Latino workers were put in line and forced to prove their legal status. ICE, in their uniforms and wearing side arms, caused ALL Latino workers to shiver in fear as they went through this ritual. The exits were sealed. Some Latino workers were sprayed with Mace.

Here’s how an ACLU press release (link no longer available) described what happened.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that workers at the factory where the raid occurred were segregated by race or ethnicity and interrogated, the factory was locked down for several hours, workers were denied access to counsel, and ICE failed to inform family members and lawyers following the raid where the workers were being jailed,” said Monica Ramirez, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project who has traveled to Mississippi to meet with family members and lawyers about the government’s actions.

So you see, brown people know that if Trump’s plan to “deport ’em all” was ever implemented, they’re all likely to be subjected to “papers please” interrogations – regardless of their legal status. It hasn’t been that long since that is exactly what happened in this country.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 29, 2015

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Immigrants, Immigration | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In Many Ways, Our Policy Legs Are Like Toothpicks”: Protests Are Fine, But Policy Is Where Change Needs To Happen

On the Thursday before Baltimore burned, Mr. Lee went to Washington.

He didn’t have far to go. Rev. Tony Lee is the 46-year-old pastor of Community of Hope, an AME church housed in a shopping mall in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, just minutes from the D.C. line. Under the auspices of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, a Washington-based advocacy group, he led a delegation of 200 African-American men to Capitol Hill. They went to their capital to talk to their legislators about issues that impact their lives: racially stratified policing, education reform, voting rights and more.

It was not about protest. It was about policy.

“Protests,” Lee told me in a telephone interview, “are one way that pushes people’s feet to the fire. Whatever the issue is, it’s brought to the forefront. But … there’s still a need for people to do legislative advocacy, dealing with policy, whether it’s from the national to the local, showing people how to be engaged and (affecting) the policies that have such direct impact.”

Too often, said Lee, African-Americans have focused solely on protest — an important element of social change, but not the only one. He used the analogy of weightlifters that focus solely on building upper-body mass while “their legs are toothpicks. … In many ways, our policy legs are like toothpicks. Most people don’t know how to engage that. What you find in the policy area is more the politicos, more the people who have been doing this stuff a while. But we want just everyday brothers — and sisters — to see how they can get engaged in policy and to make sure that their legislators, whether it’s federal, or … local, city, state, know who they are, hear their voices…”

Full disclosure: I’ve known Rev. Tony Lee for about eight years. He christened my granddaughter. And I couldn’t think of a better person to respond to Tracy. As I said in my last column, she is a reader from Austin, Texas, a 55-year-old white woman, who wrote me that she is heartsick about police violence against unarmed African-American men. I decided to focus a series of columns — open-ended and running irregularly — on finding answers to the question she asked me:

What can I do?

“I have a framework for people like her and for others,” said Lee. “It’s educate, advocate, and participate. Educate means to get educated on the issue. A lot of times, what will happen is … you can end up having a lot of blind spots because you haven’t educated yourself on the issues. … Some of those local and national organizations have a great wealth of information that you can be able to educate yourself on what’s happening around some of the issues.”

Nor, he said, should she keep what she learns to herself. “As she’s becoming more informed, start talking to the people in her life. She should never minimize what it means to talk to people who are around her, people that she daily deals with. It sounds like that would be white people. She can talk to her friends and her neighbors and … educate them on what she’s learning.”

Having educated herself, he said, she should advocate, i.e., start “to deal with and talk about these issues and how she feels about them to people who are in decision-making authority in her region, whether it’s her local lawmakers or even her national representatives.”

Tracy, said Lee, should understand the advantage her skin color affords her. “It’s one thing for some of her lawmakers to hear from some of the usual suspects. It’s another thing for them to hear from constituents that aren’t black, but are white … to hear from some of their constituents who say, ‘Hey, this is wrong.’” Even the civil rights movement, he points out, included white Americans of conscience, who realized it was not just a struggle for “black” rights, but for human rights.

Which brings us to the third leg of Lee’s model for civic engagement: participate.

“Just get connected,” he said. “All organizations can use volunteers, (even if) it’s just to come in and say, ‘I’d love to work the phones for you all for a couple of hours a week.’ But find a space to participate. The other piece of participation is to be able to give. Many of the organizations in her region and nationally, need resources to be able to do the work. … Never think that any gift is too small.”

Nor, he said, does giving stop there. “You may be in a position of fund-raising. It may be that you are able, not just to give, but to shape sessions among personal networks to be able to raise funds for some of these organizations.

Educate, advocate, participate. It is, admittedly, not an agenda as immediately and viscerally gratifying as street protest, but it highlights a salient truth about American social transformation.

On the street is where the change is demanded. At the table is where it is made.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 4, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Policy, Protests | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Police, Warriors Or Guardians?”: Replacing The “Warrior” Mentality Of Police Training With A Self-Concept Of “Community Guardians”

The almost constant examples we are experiencing of police officers gunning down unarmed suspects of late–or treating the communities they patrol as enemy bastions to be approached with overwhelming military force–are a particular shock to those of us who thought the principles of “community policing” had taken deeper root in the culture of law enforcement agencies. That’s clearly not the case. And in fact, to get back to something like community policing will require a serious reorientation of police training. The task is explained in depth at Ten Miles Square today by Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who is also a former police officer.

Becoming a “warrior” on hair-trigger to answer violence with violence has become central to police training, says Stoughton:

In this worldview, officers are warriors combatting unknown and unpredictable—but highly lethal—enemies. They learn to be afraid. Officers don’t use that word, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But officers learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because they are afraid, and they afraid because they’re taught to be.

As a result, officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. A popular police training text offers this advice: “As you approach any situation, you want to be in the habit of looking for cover[] so you can react automatically to reach it should trouble erupt.” A more recent article puts it even more bluntly: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Add in racial stereotypes and limited experience with the community an officer is “protecting” and you can understand how regular interactions between cops and citizens have entered a frightening world remote from the trust-based assumptions of community policing.

Stoughton suggests replacing the whole “warrior” mentality inculcated by police training with a self-concept of “Community Guardians.”

[W]hat’s the difference? Both Warriors and Guardians seek to protect the communities they serve, of course, but the guardian mindset takes both a broader and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. It instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified; they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. It emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. In the use-of-force context, the Guardian mindset emphasizes restraint over control, stability over action. But the concept is even broader; it seeks to protect civilians not just from crime and violence, but also from indignity and humiliation.

Stoughton offers some practical steps for how to train police officers to be “Guardians” rather than “Warriors,” including special training in how to de-escalate confrontations and how to safely exercise tactical restraint. But the starting point is admitting we have a real problem when public servants are trained to think of the citizenry as a mob of potential killers.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 17, 2015

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Community Policing, Police Abuse, Police Shootings | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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