Mobilizing the Black Vote

Sharlene Green 11/02/2018

2018 midterm elections spark an exciting time in politics. With Stacey Abrams (D) first Black female major party nominee for the Georgia gubernatorial race, Andrew Gillium (D), Florida gubernatorial race. Former NAACP President Ben Jealous (D) for the Maryland gubernatorial race and Latisha James (D), if elected, the first Black female attorney general for NYS. These minority candidates rose to compete in the general election despite President Trump’s continual attack on immigrant minority communities.

So how did these Black candidates rise to the general election? Lots of trench work a.k.a. community organizing. Latosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter Fund explain their voter mobilization. In an op-ed to the New York Times, How to Turn a Person into a Vote, Brown and Albright explain their methodology.

1). Remind people they have political power

2). Assess and adopt to a particular community’s needs

3). Let the local people lead

4). Focus on the primaries

5). Don’t pack your bags after the race is over

6). Embrace difficult conversations

7). Know the culture

At the Katal Center community organizing is the heart beat of the organization. Co-director Lorenzo Jones has over 25 years teaching communities how to advocate for themselves. On 11/01/2018 during a Katal Center team development meeting he explains how community organizing differs from issue advocacy. Jones explains that issue advocacy prioritizes the issue whereas community organizing prioritizes the community. Once people learn to mobilize, they can self-sufficiently adopt and resolve their own community needs.

“Catch a fish for a man, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, now, he can go get his fishing license.”

The Black Voters Matters Fund is a perfect blend of community organizing and issue advocacy. By reminding people of their political power as it ascertains to their local needs, individuals are equipped with the tools to fight for issues that extend beyond selecting their elected officials.

This framework of BVMF is commendable but the hope is that communities realize their power begins not just ends with their voting power. The job of the campaign staff is to get their point person elected. Consequently, the discourse to constituents often revolves around what the elected official can do for them unlike the Katal Center that works to teach individual communities what they can do for themselves.

Never do for people what they can do for themselves, Jones echoes.

Elected officials are installed to help the community but voter campaigns, such as the celebrity endorsement of Oprah canvassing for Stacey Abrams (D), are spun to dictate how voters can help candidates catapult to power.

Co-director Lorenzo Jones instills the principles of integrity over and over again. Our only job is not to lie to the people.

Elected officials do not have the capability to resolve each electoral district issue, limited time and resources make some good intentions impossible. But it is possible for communities to create and carry out their own political agendas. After the final ballot is cast and the final campaign promise has passed away, the Katal Center retains one final principle, Black votes matter, but Black voters matter more.

Honorable African American nominees for Congressional races include Ayanna Pressley (D), Lauren Underwood (D), Jahana Hayes (D), Stephany Rose Spaulding (D), Antonio Delgado (D). For Illinois Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton (D). Don’t forget to vote. mobilizingblackvote0

Gentrification Impacts Urban Parolees

Sharlene Green 10.29.18

Despite the latest NYS criminal justice reforms (pre-trial detention, alternative to incarceration), the re-incarceration of parolees for technical violations remains a controversial issue. From January 2014 to January 2018 NYC’s jail population declined by 21%. However, a reverse trend occurred among technical parole violators who were re-incarcerated at a 15% rate from January 2014 to January 2018 (Schiraldi, 2018). This statistics reveal a startling disparity, that poor black men are being arrested, imprisoned and re-arrested at an alarming rate than other demographics. 33% of parole violations are technical, meaning individuals are regularly detained for non-crime related reasons such as inability to pay a fine, inability to obtain employment and or inability to make office reports as directed.

Of the most impactful violation is the criminalization of socialization – this parole mandate bans fraternization with those with a criminal record. This rule sticks released persons with a mental health ultimatum. Either conform oneself to isolation by alienating oneself from all persons with a criminal record or risk re-arrest.

To ban socialization amongst all persons with a criminal record suggests that all persons with a criminal record are inherently bad and that introspectively, as a person with a criminal record, you too are bad. This psychological distress flies in the face of internalized racism while buttressing a false superiority among demographics less likely to have a criminal record: White, educated males.

The majority of persons incarcerated are Black men without a high school diploma from concentrated low-income communities. To ask the typical Black parolee not to fraternize with other persons with a criminal record is to ask him to instantaneously change his socioeconomic status without also immediately availing him with the educational prerequisites and or social currency needed to fraternize with those less likely to have a criminal record: White educated working men.

So what about gentrification? Doesn’t the integration of Black urban communities by the young working White expand interaction and employment networks for Black men? One would assume so, but no.

Studies reveal that as neighborhoods gentrify, more 911 calls are made to curtail the socialization of Black communities in lieu of newly envisioned White communities. Weekend relaxing via music playing with friends on a Friday night now translates to loitering and public nuisance. Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor and author of the book, Chokehold: Policing Black Men writes that police are enforcing newcomers unwillingness to adapt to longstanding community norms because ultimately White newcomers are seeking to colonize not accompany existing Black communities.

This ugly truth begs an ugly question. How does a disenfranchised poor Black parolee compartmentalize the threat of being displaced from his physical community while already being mandated to distance himself from his community members? Illegal fraternization.

How then does one deal with one’s mental health, eschewing the depression that defaults from unemployment? Illegal self-medication

And thereafter, when the depression still does not dissipate. The pain that stabs the gut in the midnight and prohibits hope in the daydreams. The occasional heartache that would successfully tempt the average person to stay in bed all day missing pertinent appointments. Unless your pertinent appointment is with your parole officer. Illegal Abscondment.

Urban gentrified communities creates hyper isolated pockets of incarceration meaning those likely to be arrested are also those most likely to have close friends and family members with a criminal record. 85% of jobs are obtained from personal networking. Similarly, the caveats needed to acclimate to a successful life from your network such as obtaining housing and or cheap informal child care become nearly impossible when a majority of your network also has a criminal record.

Philadelphia, New Jersey City, Nashville and NYC. What do these 4 states have in common? Rising gentrification and rising re-arrest for technical parole violators (Aiken, 2017). The Economic Policy Institute reports that overall wages for American workers hasn’t increased since 1970. In contrast, inflation, property values and the cost of living has increased (Mishel, Gould, Bivens, 2015). Moreover, the U.S. Dept. of Labor observes Black men make 70% less than their white counterparts. Criminal records create barriers to the formal work economy meanwhile rising property values make housing affordability even more difficult for parolees without access to a employment network.

New York State’s Governor Cuomo addressed the the epidemic of technical parole violators at his 2018 State of the Union address. Fines and parole revocation for marijuana are obvious injustices but to truly assist the demographic most affected by parole violation, deeper analysis is needed into the cultural biases that are most likely to affect parole violators. As a nation we must stop policing one’s right to make personal judgments among personal relationships. If we trust a person is worthy of release, we must additionally trust he is worthy of full communal integration. To eliminate public congregation of persons with a common criminal trait, we are thereby creating a subclass of persons susceptible to subpar treatment. Criminal justice reform must include implicit bias discussions that to confront the unconscious creation of bias policies. If the goal is to reduce the amount of persons locked up we have to stop treating parolees like they’re inherently deserving of lockup.