12-11-2017  10:55 am      •     
MLK Breakfast
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NEWS BRIEFS

Joint Office of Homeless Services Announces Severe Weather Strategy

Those seeking shelter should call 211 or visit 211.org; neighbors encouraged to volunteer and donate cold-weather apparel ...

Q&A with Facebook's Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams

A conversation on diversity and the tech industry ...

City Announces Laura John as Tribal Liason

Laura John brings an extensive background in tribal advocacy and community engagement to the city of Portland ...

Humboldt Sewer Repair Project Update: Dec. 4

Environmental Services continues to repair more than 3 miles of public sewer pipes ...

'Santaland' on Display at Oregon Historical Society

New exhibit features Santa’s throne, Rudolph, and elves from original Meier and Frank’s Santaland ...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

OPINION

Payday Lenders Continue Attack on Consumer Protections

Charlene Crowell of the Center for Responsible Lending writes that two bills that favor predatory lenders has received bipartisan...

Hundreds Rallied for Meek Mill, but What About the Rest?

Lynette Monroe, a guest columnist for the NNPA Newswire, talks about Meek Mill, the shady judge that locked him up and mass...

Top 10 Holiday Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet

Dr. Jasmine Streeter explains why pampering pets with holiday treats can be dangerous (and pricey) ...

Why We Need More Black Men in Early Childhood Education

Royston Maxwell Lyttle discusses the importance of Black male teachers in early childhood education for the NNPA ESSA Media Campaign ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

ENTERTAINMENT

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. NNPA Columnist

Whenever the president of the United States speaks to a national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), millions of people pay attention. As a former Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP, I listened very carefully last week to President Barack Obama’s historic keynote address to the organization’s 106th annual convention in Philadelphia.

There was a noticeable deliberate “freedom of expression” style and substance in President Obama’s speech to the NAACP. He was confident, candid and clear. Obama was unrestrained, passionate and focused. In other words, the president went straight to his main subject matter: The urgency and mandate today for criminal justice reform in the United States.

President Obama stated, “But today, I want to focus on one aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation – and that is our criminal justice system.”

Obama’s remarks were timely and welcomed by millions of families that have been devastated as a result of the injustice of the current court and prison system. It was full of analysis and statistics that went beyond typical political rhetoric. He cited the following facts to stress that now was the time for bipartisan corrective action by all levels of government:

  • The population of the U.S. has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but holds 25 percent of the world’s prisoners;
  • In 1980, there were 500,000 people in prison in the U.S., but today there are 2.2 million, a disproportionate number of them African American and Latino;
  • The U.S. spends $80 billion per year on keeping people in prison, about the same amount of money it would take to make tuition free at all public universities and colleges across the nation;
  • One third of the entire budget of the U.S. Justice Department is spent on incarceration;
  • While African Americans and Latino Americans combined make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, we make up 60 percent of the prison inmates in the U.S.;
  • One in every 35 African American men is imprisoned, compared to one in every 88 Latino men as compared and one in every 214 White men; and
  • Research studies have confirmed that African Americans are more likely to stopped by the police, frisked, questioned, charged and arrested than any other racial group in the U.S.’s

We all should be willing to join and support the emerging criminal justice reform movement in America. Hopefully, President Obama’s address to the NAACP will stimulate the passage of bipartisan legislation that will stop racial profiling and other legislative measures that will help to dramatically reduce the prison population in the United States. In the absence of real reform, the issues surrounding mass incarceration will not be adequately resolved

President Obama made reference to the fact that on reaching the ultimate goal of criminal justice reform, there are today converging interests between the NAACP and the politically conservative Koch brothers, as well as between the ACLU and Americans for Tax Reform and among other divergent groups who have not worked together on social justice issues in the past. That is a good sign of what might be possible going forward.

Frederick Douglass said it best, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” But the struggle to reform the criminal justice system must move beyond just a momentary national news cycle event response to whenever President Obama makes an outstanding speech. I wish social change was that easy to achieve. It is not. The work has begun, but we still have a lot of hard work and coalition building to do to make real reform happen.

I believe we in the African American community has to take more responsibility to end mass incarceration and to challenge all the inequities of our society. Ending poverty and injustice, first and foremost, is our demand and it also has to be our responsible leadership to keep pushing forward. The government has its role, but we should not solely rely on the government. I believe in self-development and self-improvement. Our struggle for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment must continue with renewed energy and determination.

 

Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: dr.bchavis@nnpa.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc

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