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Solution Paper #39, posted August 4, 2009
Originally published in November 2002
in The Minneapolis Story, Through My Eyes,
by Ron Edwards
This chapter explores the relationship between jobs and jail and the war on drugs as a war on Black men. This is not the integration Blacks have in mind: jobs for Whites building jails for Black inmates. Jails have become construction jobs for Whites and residential facilities for Blacks. This is very wrong. This chapter also explores the question of why Blacks, either as contractors or workers, despite making up one-third of the population of Minneapolis, are practically non-existent at any of the construction sites building or rebuilding Minneapolis and St. Paul.
As stated before, self-reliance requires an asset base, like education, housing, and jobs. Oppression cannot be lifted without human, financial or physical capital. Minneapolis denies these to its inner city Blacks.
In one sense, this is the simplest of my topics. The data suggests, without fear of contradiction, that the war on drugs is also a war on the Black man, especially the young Black man, which is where this chain reaction begins. It then ends with prison contracts excluding Blacks in the construction of prisons but including them as inmates.
The construction contract system was meant to include Black contractors. It did not, with the exception of Black fronts of White investors and White workers, what could be called "Oreo cookie companies" (Black as titular head, a few Black secretaries and gophers, and inbetween them: White professionals in the office and field). It is also meant to enrich White contractors. The new jail cost $108 million. But it only added 96 beds. That over a million dollars a bed (do you see the parallel with the spending in housing (Chapter 7)?
But the war on the Black man didn't start with drugs; it started with slavery prior to the founding of the nation and continued after its founding under the Democrats. We won that battle, but the war continued. Reconstruction halted the war against the Black man. We won that battle too, but the war continued again when the Democrats traded the Presidency in 1876 so they could begin the war against the Black man all over again, which they did with a vengeance as soon as the Federal troops were withdrawn, the Jim Crow laws were enacted, and the Ku Klux Klan was established and turned loose, using lynching as one of the ways to take wealth from Blacks (Interludes 8 and 15), all done to keep us in our place.
Martin Luther King, Jr., discovered that the Mason-Dixon line extended all the way to the Canadian border. The battle against the Black man continued with the Civil Rights days of the 60s, which became another battle that we won, this time with the help of Northern Democrats, but the war still continued. In the first 350 years of this country's history, we were needed in the fields, and in the second half of the 20 th century we were needed in the factories. Now we are perceived as not being needed since the Boss can't picture us as anything but field hands; he really doesn't want us in the house, so he really doesn't want us. Again, Minneapolis is an Upper Midwest outpost of the great experiment of how to keep Black people in their place. Keep them uneducated, destroy their housing and kick them out, ghettoize those in the 5 th Ward who have no other place to go, reduce its size so it makes sure it has nothing to offer its residents, take away its economically viable portion that was part of Downtown, enable drug use, arrest us and move all of who are considered excess baggage off to prison or jail.
As minority firms in almost any city can confirm, age-long discrimination and economic road blocks for racial minorities and women have long been embedded in the process. The only way to level the playing fields for minority contractors is to sustain equality of opportunity. And the few who get a chance are kept from the real goal of all contractors: graduating from small time to prime time. The moral compass in need of movement is not only that of White contractors, but of government agencies as well, which have the oversight and the power to give contracts, that nonetheless do not follow their own rules for leveling the playing field. The only conclusion one can draw is that these DFL directed agencies aren't supposed to.
This is why I have concluded that the only association that seems to be desired for Blacks is to occupy the jails built by the White contractors. It is why I see the war on drugs as a war on young Black men, especially the poor of the inner city. Everyone's spirit soars when they work on what they enjoy working on. When society purposefully not only prevents, but also withholds opportunities for decent education, jobs and incomes through policies that allow discrimination and exclusion, it is the same as making war on them.
Gated communities are being created because those who have assured their place in society fear and despise those on whose backs they have made it, those whom they have saddled and spurred. We make inner city minorities poor, prevent good education, and then blame them for not being able to overcome the obstacles that have been put in their path.
And although it is not spoken of in the White community, the Black community sees the war on drugs as another battle in the war on Black men. Prisons are a growth industry. But Blacks are excluded here too, except as inmates. White contractors use White laborers, reserving Black involvement for the finished product as inmates.
1981 was a pivotal year in the war on drugs as a war on Black men. Let's look at it from a Black person's perspective. 1981 was when crack cocaine was first introduced into the poor Black communities of America. California's Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters has demonstrated a tie between the CIA wars in Latin America with their involvement in introducing drugs from Latin American drug lords into our cities. Why? Because the CIA needed money to fight the war in El Salvador through the Contras, a war that Congress would not fund. So the CIA got money by selling these drugs on the streets of America's inner cities. And as long as the drugs stayed in the Black ghetto, everyone won: the CIA got its money, the Contras got their weapons, Latin America dealers got their sales, and the Blacks were kept "down on the farm" in the ghetto, drugged up, robbing and killing each other or getting jailed. And if the babies were born crack addicted, that only meant that they were guaranteed to never grow up to amount to anything.
Note: This is not new. The British started the opium trade for the same dual reason: to keep the Chinese docile but also to become a huge market for the opium the British were selling. At one point, over 25% of Chinese were opium addicted. Mao's solution was to execute all who would not or could not go cold turkey to get off drugs. He killed millions. We are more humane. We flood the ghetto with drugs, turn its residents into addicts, and then just put them in jail. Either way, its racial cleansing. The greatest boon to Black revival in America would be for Blacks to go cold turkey on drugs and put all the energy into education, housing, jobs and economic development.
Let's look at the numbers. In 1980, in the United States, there were only 100,000 African Americans in jail. By the year 2001 it was 1.3 million. At this rate, by the year 2020, 2/3 of all young Black men will be in jail. Again, dear reader, we have to turn to statistics to help make the case: 76% of all users of illegal drugs are White, yet 70% of drug convictions are Black In seven states, Blacks make up 80-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison. In 15 states, Black men are committed to state prisons across this country at a rate ranging from 20-57 times the rate of White men, depending on the state. In the United States in 2001, 52,000 people were arrested in the U.S. and jailed for smoking marijuana in public, up from 720 in 1992. Lots of jailing options there.
Now here is a mind-boggling number: the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has shown that 12-17 year old White youths are one third more likely to have sold drugs than Black youth, yet it is Black youth who get arrested. So even though Blacks make up only 13% of drug users, they are 35% of those arrested for drug possession, 55% of those convicted, and 74% of those sent to prison. What is the difference? The value attributed to the individuals. Blacks and Browns are set to prison while privileged Whites get rehabilitation programs. It's that simple. It's that racist. It's that unjust. It's that unfair. One need not dwell long on these statistics to realize we have turned our backs on our commitment to fairness, justice, and racial equality. We get it from both Republicans and Democrats. Is it any wonder Blacks are reaching out to the Green Party and evaluating other political options?
Clearly, this reflects a justice system that is racist, and that applies that racism to fostering Black poverty by providing a steady flow of drugs in order to provide a steady flow of inmates for a growth industry needing inmates to justify the expense of building jails and prisons. This in turn allows for a steady outflow of Blacks from cities to the prisons so that cities can be emptied of Blacks and regained by the Whites who left them during the fearful White-flight days of the 1960s and 1970s.
This is all part of the racial cleansing of neighborhoods I discussed in the previous chapter. If Blacks are gone, they are gone, making it easier for Whites to regentrify.
This is also why privatizing prisons is a terrible idea. Privatizing prisons means they have to make a profit. To make a profit, they have to be full to capacity. What happens if there is a drop in crime and arrests? These prisons fail to make money for their stockholders. If public, they could be shuttered until needed. If private, they need always be full, constantly and forever or they go bankrupt. Where best to get a supply of inmates to make sure they are profitable, than the young Black men of the inner city? Note: This too is not new. Ships in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, especially in California ports, used to "Shanghai" men, usually by drugging them, in order to have shipmate workers on board for long sea voyages.
Visit http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/18/opinion/18HERB.html?todaysheadlines to get a good perspective on the craziness, stupidity and destructiveness of many drug laws; the godfather of many of them was Nelson Rockefeller trying to show how tough he was when he was a Governor wanting to be President. The Rockefeller legacy, pushed through the New York State Legislature, is still as wrongheaded an approach to crime and drug addiction as you can get, albeit a simple approach: jail them, and often for life. They thought it would scare people straight. Remember, 70% of drug users in America are White but 70% of those sent to jail are Black, and in New York, the figure is higher: 94 percent of the people doing time for drug offenses in the state of New York are Black or Hispanic . The system of sentencing is so corrupt that nonviolent low-level drug offenders are sentenced to prison terms that are longer than those served by some killers and rapists. Consider this: compare New York's college and incarceration numbers for young Black and Hispanic/Latino men: more become inmates each year than become college graduates. And although I am not for legalizing drugs, I am for decriminalizing them, treating them as worthy of fines as we do for underage smokers and drinkers or for those who get drunk.
Lets face it; marihuana was not always the boogeyman. Before the end of Prohibition, Congress heard testimony from the American Medical Association regarding the medicinal value of marijuana. Then Prohibition ended and Congress got a different story. From John Anslinger, the head of the government's prohibition "G" men. His most famous subordinate was Elliot Ness, of Untouchables fame. But with Prohibition over, what was Anslinger going to do with all of his Prohibition agents? And his empire? Answer: go after another substance besides alcohol. A Mexican in Texas got into a fight outside a bar and killed his opponent. They found marihuana in his pocket. With this, Anslinger turned it into "the devil weed" and testified to Congress that unless his agents went after marijuana users, America's youth were doomed. Congress appropriated money and once again a bureaucrat kept his empire, turning all of his booze barrel breaking agents into narcotics agents. At first, it was primarily a fun war against those from South of the border. After the 60s, narcotics agents went after counter-culture Whites on drugs and Blacks. And in the 80s the inner cities were introduced to crack cocaine for the first time and the assembly line to fill the jails and empty the inner city ghettos began.
It gets worse: to achieve this policy of keeping Blacks in line, the Black families had to first be destroyed. The welfare policies that achieved this were developed by Democrats who put more faith in the State than in its individual citizens or in communities and their neighborhoods. Fathers are the backbones of families. 91% of those in jail had no dads at home when they were growing up. In 1920, 90% of Black fathers were at home; in 1960, the figure was 80%. By 2001, the number had fallen to a staggering 32%. No dads, no discipline. But feminists of the Left still support these denigrating, anti-male social welfare policies. Pregnancies, suicides, and most other negative variables are the result of no dads being at home, providing perfect fodder for prisons.
Thus, the policy seems to be to give them drugs and guns so they can kill each other, and then we take those left and send them to prison. And what a great solution, as once they are released, they will commit crimes, provide work for the vast therapeutic bureaucracy of social workers, who are also tied into the Democrats. Then, as the recidivism rate is over 80%, they return to prison, assuring a high rate of inmates. The true policy is not to solve the problem but to maintain it through containment. There are also reports that religious programs in prisons help reduce this but they are not adopted by politicians on the left due to their obsession with separation of church and state.
Minneapolis needs to know there is only one jail project that counts, and that is the program that helps kids grow up right so they do not become candidates for jail. That means Whites have to give up the notion that Blacks are jailbait and include Black contractors and hire Black workers. But as long as Black organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, and so-called Black leaders, including Black pastors and community center individuals, serve the interest of the Mastuhs, and don't work directly to end the discrimination and horrible consequences of racism in education, housing, and construction hiring, the corruption will remain in place and young Black men will remain on track for jail.
The crux of the matter, as with all societies, is how best to harness the energies of young men. Reports show that girls are doing much better than the boys. Right now, we feed the disdain of young men for education. Instead of educating our young men, we import educated immigrants from India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and certain countries in Africa and South America. We don't want to work with our colored but we'll bring other coloreds in from around the world who are already trained. Of course, they are free. Their countries trained them and paid for their training. So the irony is that we continue to bring in coloreds from other countries, hastening the time when Whites will be the minority in the U.S. If we want to get the best from our own people, we need to educate poor Blacks and Whites as well.
But don't older men in positions of power actually fear young males of any race? Indeed, people believe the stereotypes that we hear that Black and Brown young men are aggressive and macho, whereas Black and Brown young women are sweet and good-natured. Racism and sexism all in one sentence. We alienate our young Black and Brown men academically and shove them over the edge into the economic underclass, while offering a hand to their Black and Brown sisters, who are not considered aggressive and macho. It is as if society is saying that we fear the boys but not the girls. It is time to embrace these young men and make them partners with us, not outcasts.
As Americans, we lead the world in so many things, in so many ways. We must also lead our own, not just those who, although educated, do not have the same allegiance to our country, and who often feel the U.S. is merely a place to take advantage of, not a place to set down roots and become American. In an age of diversity where the emphasis is E Unum pluribus (out of one land many loyalties), not our founding E pluribus Unum (out of many, one), when we salute those not like us and bring them here, even when they wish us ill, we sow the seeds of our own destruction.
The need for Congress to increase the immigration quotas for trained individuals is one of the most damning testimonies to the horrible state of American education and the plantation mentality of inner city education policies of the Democratic Party and their allies in corporate America and in the teachers' unions, who, together, emphasize educating suburban Whites but not the urban Blacks and Browns. And why not? As long as the Blacks and Browns put up with it and continue to vote for their Democratic and teachers' union overlords, where is the incentive for these overlords to educate them, especially when they have declared that Blacks and Browns can't make it on their own anyway, and should just bow and answer "yessah, Mastuh?"
It is time to end the war on Black men, especially young Black men. And the first step is to bring them into the educational mainstream so they can enter the economic mainstream. Anything less is a statement that Blacks are inferior and should stay uneducated and impoverished at the bottom of the economic ladder and fill the empty jail beds to make profits for their shareholders. I categorically reject this. Educating and training young Black men, rather than casting them out, will stop creating new recruits for street crime and help those against them end their irrational and counterproductive fears of the poor, especially Black poor. We solve society's problems by creating ways for all workers to earn enough to raise their families. And we can start that by adding young Black men to those hired, in significant numbers, for the construction jobs in Minneapolis. We need a Jackie Robinson moment in hiring in construction in Minneapolis.
This will not just go away. People are at the end of their rope. A major forum was held in Minneapolis at the Sabathani Community Center on Saturday, August 3, 2002. You can read the full story not, of course in the Star Tribune or other White papers, but in the Black Spokesman-Recorder of the Thursday, August 8-14, 2002 edition.
If people wonder why Blacks in Minneapolis are hot under the collar, this meeting will stop the wondering. The law is being broken on every construction site, and the city and state are standing by and letting them. 35% of Blacks make up Minneapolis and virtually none work on these multi-million dollar projects. The stories of discrimination, lies, and other obstructions offered up to block participation have obviously pushed people to the breaking point. When you can't get a job in your trade to feed your family just because you are Black, hope is killed and social unrest is fostered. Even Black churches usually hire only White contractors, as that is how their leaders stay in the game.
And yet, despite the turn out of high powered officials, nothing has been done about it by these officials. Those in attendance included Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council Member Dean Zimmerman, representatives from the offices of Senator Paul Wellstone, the Metropolitan Council, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the Minneapolis and St. Paul Urban Leagues, and such faith based groups as MICAH/ISAIAH, Sabathani Life Skills, and the African American Men Project, as well as folks from the trade unions and contractors). Progress? None.
Some people were very eager to gain information to show the projects were not in compliance, i.e., not following Federal, state and city laws regarding including Blacks as workers. That was when it was my turn to offer my suggestions. You see, I don't believe that when the fox is left in charge of the hen house, he will do anything but eat the hens. Any figures eventually received, assuming they are even provided, will be bogus. The Bosses, government and corporate, are in the habit of cooking the numbers. They will certainly cook them on us. I outlined several steps I believe should be taken, and I share them now with you, dear reader, in the hopes that whether you live in Minneapolis or some other city, they will help provide inspiration and specific steps to correct this oppression of Black people in our city:
And there you have it. Marching and protesting are not enough. They just laugh at us. We need to have the information and we need to demand that the city and state follow the law, and bring the Federal government in to investigate the city and state if they won't follow the laws.
As I told the group, and as I could end every chapter in this book: if we really want to give our children a future, we will make noise now. Jim Crow used the law to take our freedoms. Let us use the law to take them back.
Let us not forget the situation we are in. To use the title of Jawanza Kunjufu's book, we are in a State of Emergency: We Must Save African American Males*. Any time you falter in the 9 steps above, use these points from Kunjufu's book (pp. 1-20) to remind you of what is at stake:
As Kunjufu asks, as all this is true in Black America, are we going to rise up and declare a state of emergency?
*State of Emergency: We Must Save African American Males , African American Images Press, Chicago, Illinois, 2001, www.AfricanAmericanImages.com
Postscript of October 3, 2002: Black men need not apply
To put this chapter in different words: Minneapolis doesn't want to hire Black men. Period. All city and Federal construction projects are supposed to. They don't. Minneapolis is not in compliance because it doesn't believe in compliance. There is no push for it from the city. You destroy a man by not letting him get a job. That is the goal: destroy the Black man. He can't raise a family without a job. Its the price Minneapolis is willing to pay to keep us in our place. For over a year we have been trying to get the city to give us compliance numbers. Natalie Johnson-Lee, when told by the Department that they couldn't provide the numbers, ordered them to come to the meeting of her Health and Human Services Committee, October 3, 2002, and state so publicly and in writing. And that is what happened. On October 3, 2002, the head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department admitted she had no information regarding compliance in construction and no information regarding the Civilian Review Authority. The Minneapolis Story just keeps on writing itself new verses to the same old song. And the tune isn't pretty. And compliance in Minneapolis for minorities isn't just about American home grown Blacks, as it now also includes a large contingent of Somalis. If you read only the Star Tribune, you remain ignorant. But if you read the Spokesman-Recorder or The City Pages , you receive a full reporting of this travesty of boss city goernment.
Back before social engineering was the rule, Blacks went to work as railroad engineers and workers. Both my grandfather Edwards and my father worked as Pullman porters. The inventor and manufacturer of the Pullman sleeper car was George Pullman. Note his first name: George. For my grandfather, father and 10,000 others, George became the new first name of each Black porter. That it happened is one thing. But that so many passengers from East to West, North to South, all participated in the same denigration is one of the low points in the history and dignity of Americans, low in terms of how Whites acted. It is further evidence of the racism of Whites across the country and their continued efforts to keep us in our place. It was meant to be humiliating. And yet these 10,000 porters maintained their dignity despite being called George. But my father said they never let it put them down. For every "George" they got they just smiled back, and to them each smile meant something like: "You are such an idiot." Among themselves, they were able to develop a triumphant sense of solidarity.
The HBO video 10,000 Men Named George first aired in 2001. The story focuses on A. (Asa) Philip Randolph and his 12-year struggle to unionize the railway porters in the 1920s and 1930s. This was before the AFL or CIO invited Blacks to join. But Randolph was more than just a labor organizer; he was also a civil rights and social justice activist. Some call him the Godfather of the Civil Rights Movement, as he laid its foundation and taught Martin Luther King. Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell. Randolph fought for a living wage and dignified working conditions for the porters. He also helped persuade President Harry S. Truman to ban racial discrimination in the military and he conceived of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1941, to protest discrimination in Federal employment. When FDR signed an executive order banning such discrimination, the march was called off. However, it finally came to fruition in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march in 1963.
The film can also be seen at as a lesson in how a few powerless but dedicated men can literally move mountains. The Pullman Company was one of the largest employers of Blacks in the United States and one of the most powerful companies in the country. Yet Randolph fought back against tremendous opposition to organize. To him, it was a battle to improve working conditions that he also felt was a civil rights and social justice issue.
This story is an important one, especially for young Black men, many of whom feel defeated. They need to see how one person, A. Phillip Randolph, could leave his imprint, all in the face of daunting power, as the full weight of society pitted against him: violence, bribes, and government efforts to thwart his efforts to organize the Black porters on the nation's passenger trains. He forced the powerful Pullman Company to recognize the union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African-American labor union, in 1937.
What Randolph achieved was historic for another reason: he negotiated the first contract ever given to a group of Black American workers. Pullman is said to have tried to save face, after losing the battle to prevent unionization, even having used thugs to beat up the leaders, when he said: "A man who won't meet his own men halfway is a damn fool!" He was pulled kicking and screaming to that halfway point.
To commemorate this great achievement, there is a permanent exhibit at the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and Gallery on South Maryland Street in Chicago. Interestingly enough, 10,000 Black Men Named George was the last project of Stan Margulies, who decades earlier helped bring Alex Haley's Roots to TV in that epic series.
Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm. Formerly head of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and the Urban League, he continues his “watchdog” role for Minneapolis. Order his book, hear his voice, read his solution papers, and read his between columns “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.
Permission is granted to reproduce The Minneapolis Story columns, blog entires and solution papers. Please cite the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and www.TheMinneapolisStory.com for the columns. Please cite www.TheMinneapolisStory.com for blog entries and solution papers.
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