fbpx
Connect with us

Politics

The Five Worst Supreme Court Justices In American History, Ranked

Published

on

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the Federalist Society in Washington in 2007. (Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the Federalist Society in Washington in 2007. (Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

 

(Think Progress) – Today is the official release date for my book, Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comforted and Afflicting the Afflicted. As you might guess from the title, it is not particularly complimentary of the Supreme Court as an institution. As the book’s jacket explains, “the justices of the Supreme Court have shaped a nation where children toiled in coal mines, where Americans could be forced into camps because of their race, and where a woman could be sterilized against her will by state law. The Court was the midwife of Jim Crow, the right hand of union busters, and the dead hand of the Confederacy. Nor is the modern Court a vast improvement, with its incursions on voting rights and its willingness to place elections for sale.”

Even amidst this dark history, certain justices stand out as particularly mean-spirited, ideological or unconcerned about their duty to follow the text of the Constitution. Based on my review of over 150 years of Supreme Court history in Injustices, here are the five jurists who stand out as the worst justices in American history:

READ MORE

New Pittsburgh Courier

Democrats need a Lincoln—and a General

NEW PITTSBURGH COURIER — As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.

Published

on

Mike Jones

By Mike Jones

As Benjamin Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention he was approached by a woman who asked, “What have you given us, a monarchy or a republic? Franklin replied, ”A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

Every serious thinker since Plato, including the founders of the United States, have had the same reservation about popular democracy; there is a very thin line that separates democratic rule from mob rule. When democracies begin to disintegrate they produce tyrants, the rise of the Roman Empire was a result of the fall of the Roman Republic.

Athletes need coaches, armies need generals, and political parties need political leaders. What stands between the flawed democratic project that is the United States and a dystopian future that would make “1984” look like the Garden of Eden before the snake is an intellectually vapid baby boomer Democratic leadership class, lacking in character, whose political muscle has completely atrophied.

The sophomoric moralizing of Democratic leadership about constitutional and cultural norms is not about protecting a moral high ground, but rather an excuse for the political cowardice of not confronting an existential evil that is currently metastasizing throughout the American body politic.

Abraham Lincoln was not only arguably America’s most eloquent president but also its most prophetic. In his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before the end of the Civil War and his assassination, he gives the reason for the war and when it will end. For him the cause was unequivocally slavery. “Slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest,” Lincoln wrote. “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war.”

Lincoln believed that the war would only end when the nation had paid the full price of the sin of slavery, and God would determine when the debt was paid. As he put it, the war would “continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” Slavery, which was maintained by violence, would require a violent death.

Lincoln understood clearly that if the South tried to break the Union, the Union had to break the South. Political leadership like Lincoln gets you generals like William Tecumseh Sherman, the ultimate destroyer, who telegraphed Lincoln the following in 1864, “War is the remedy our enemies have chosen. They wanted war, and I say let’s give them all they want; not a word of argument, not a sign of let up, no cave in till we are whipped or they are.”

Sherman was the military expression of Lincoln’s political will, and Lincoln had the moral agency to deploy him without any reservation. What’s the relevance for us today?

Donald Trump is ignorant, lazy, incompetent and amoral, but he’s not stupid. Mitch McConnell is immoral but cunning. Like all hyenas, they have a nose for fear and weakness and the Democratic establishment smells like prey. Trump, McConnell and the dumpster fire that is the current Republican Party are political thugs. To stop political thugs requires you to be a political gangsta. Lincoln and Sherman were political gangstas; that’s why they prevailed over the Confederate political thugs. Democratic leadership can’t spell “O.G.,” let alone be one.

History is very often about the path not taken. What would have happened had Lincoln lived? Before you start hyperventilating with the possibilities, remember Lincoln was a man of his times, meaning that like most, if not all, 19th century American White men, he was a racist. His moral objection to slavery was because it stained the soul of White Americans. How he would have addressed the humanity of emancipated African Americans is an open question.

Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War is an interesting analogy to put the 2020 Presidential Election into some historical context. Just about every issue riling the American political system has its root in the unrealized possibilities of Lincoln’s second term. The armed conflict ended in April 1865, but his assassination two weeks later insured the war would continue. Like then, the struggle now is between the forces of the Union versus the Confederacy. The 21st century Confederacy has its Jefferson Davis. The question is: can 21st America still produce a Lincoln?

The point is not to make Lincoln a hero to African Americans, because he was not. The point is to illustrate what effective, principled White political leadership looks like and the difference it can make when the fate of the Republic is at stake. Lincoln understood what was at stake and what was required. History will have to wait until November 2020 to make a judgment about the Democratic leadership of today.

(Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.)

Reprinted from the St. Louis American.

This article originally appeared in the New Pittsburgh Courier

Continue Reading

#NNPA BlackPress

COMMENTARY: Is U.S. marching steadily to war with Iran?

NNPA NEWSWIRE — A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

Published

on

An oil tanker is on fire in the sea of Oman, June 13. Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked on June 13, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the U.S. Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Photo: AP/Wide World Photo

By Askia Muhammad, Senior Editor, The Final Call
@askiaphotojourn

WASHINGTON—President Donald J. Trump seems to want war with Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is beating the drum for war with Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton is itching for war with Iran. Together they are orchestrating an all-too-familiar scenario to justify the use of U.S. military force against the Islamic Republic.

In 1846 U.S. forces falsely claimed they were attacked by Mexican forces inside U.S. territory. In retaliation the U.S. launched the Mexican-American War, seizing land from New Mexico to California, to Colorado, even to Utah. Have we forgotten the suspicious sinking of the USS Maine, the Navy ship which went down in the Havana Harbor in 1898, dragging the U.S. into the Spanish-American War?

In 1962, a Pentagon plan called “Operation Northwoods” was hatched for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to commit acts of terrorism against U.S. civilians to be blamed on Cuba, in order to justify an invasion of that country. In 1964 the White House committed “material misrepresentations” of the truth of what was known as the “Gulf of Tonkin Incident” in order to goad Congress into authorizing war with Vietnam. And of course, the convincing dramatizations of “Yellow Cake Uranium” and non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” were used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Trump administration is now stoking fear of a potential conflict with Iran. The president withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—in May 2018. More recently, National Security Adviser John Bolton asked the Pentagon to provide the White House with military options to strike Iran.

In the latest incident, the Secretary of State said Iran was behind the attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman June 13, implicating the nation in the second set of attacks on tankers in the region in two months. U.S. Central Command even released a video it says shows Iran removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers it’s accused of attacking.

But the Japanese owner of the ship that was damaged denied that it was struck by mines as the U.S. claims, insisting instead that it was hit by “flying objects.” Yutaka Katada, president of the Kokuka Sangyo shipping firm that owns the Kokuka Courageous tanker, told reporters in Tokyo June 14: “The crew are saying it was hit with a flying object. They say something came flying toward them, then there was an explosion, then there was a hole in the vessel. Then some crew witnessed a second shot.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the United States had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran—(without) a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence,” and he accused the Trump White House of “economic terrorism” and “sabotage diplomacy,” according to published reports.

“So it’s apparent that the United States is trying to execute a false flag operation and to throw dust in the eyes of international communities and make the international community feel that the Iranians are the aggressors when in fact it’s Washington that’s the aggressor,” Dr. Gerald Horne, professor of history and African American studies at the University of Houston said in an interview.

The U.S. lust for war is because U.S. interests and allies are suffering, while Iran is making gains in the region, according to Dr. Horne. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has made that country even more dependent on Iran for everything from electricity to security. And U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is fighting a costly and bloody war against rebels in Yemen who enjoy Iranian support.

“Interestingly enough, because of Mr. Trump pulling out of the (Iranian) nuclear deal, the EU 3—Germany, Britain, and France—are trying to set up a special purpose vehicle to circumvent U.S. sanctions,” Dr. Horne said, “which will then be a threat to the dollar, which is now under siege not only because of the EU 3 but also because of Russia (and) China preparing to conduct trade without the dollar.”

A war, Mr. Trump may be estimating, could “rescue” him politically, and inject more money into the Pentagon. The U.S. “war strategy” was revealed by Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) after a House Armed Services Committee meeting and confirmed to The Intercept by Rep. Gabbard. “We were all in that meeting with Pompeo where those statements were made,” Ms. Gabbard said.

The Trump administration is prepared to wage the war against Iran without congressional authorization, based on the notion that the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” approved by Congress in 2001 after 9/11 can be applied to Iran, through that country’s purported links to Al Qaeda.

Democratic House members and senators, and a host of presidential candidates condemned the president’s saber rattling. “If the administration wants to go to war against Iran, then the Constitution requires them to come to Congress to ask for an authorization for the use of military force,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a presidential candidate told reporters.

“This is Constitutional Law 101, that it is Congress, not the president, that declares war,” Sen. Warren, a former law professor, continued. “We would have to have a debate on the floor of the Senate. And if the administration doesn’t believe that they can withstand a debate, then they shouldn’t be aiming themselves toward war.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to reporters after a classified members-only briefing on Iran, Tuesday, May 21, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Trump told an interviewer on June 13 that “Iran did do it.” In response, presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters: “Attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman are unacceptable and must be fully investigated. But this incident must not be used as a pretext for a war with Iran, a war which would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States, Iran, the region and the world.

“The time is now for the United States to exert international leadership and bring the countries in the region together to forge a diplomatic solution to the growing tensions. I would also remind President Trump that there is no congressional authorization for a war with Iran. A unilateral U.S. attack on Iran would be illegal and unconstitutional.”

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Continue Reading

#NNPA BlackPress

If You’re Poor in America, Debtor’s Prison is Real

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, according to a 2018 report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Published

on

Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Despite a centuries-old Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the practice, debtor’s prison remains very much alive in America, experts told NNPA Newswire. Being poor is challenging enough, but some states, like Missouri, have continued to punish those of lesser means.

A federal class-action suit claims thousands of those living in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines – essentially, a debtor’s prison and conundrum for the poor.

Pro Publica reported that four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.

The report details the plight of Tonya DeBerry, who, in January 2014, was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.

“After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail,” according to Pro Publica.

“To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. However, even after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody.

Because DeBerry still owed fines and fees to the cities in Ferguson and Jennings, she remained jailed and her attorney likened it to “being held for ransom.”

“The crisis that is going on in Missouri is taking place all around the country. It is a rising issue amongst people who cannot afford to pay court fees and, or fines,” said Attorney Dameka L. Davis of the Davis Legal Center in Hollywood, Fla.

“I believe the more appropriate action is to implement programs and services that are free or offer a person to do community service in lieu of paying fines or fees,” Davis said.

“Our system is perpetuating a money-based system, which in turn systematically affects minorities and people of color,” she said.

Matt C. Pinsker, an adjunct professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the problem runs deeper than in Missouri.

“The American people would be horrified if they knew of just how many laws still exist which send poor people to prison over their inability to pay fines, court costs, and related expenses,” Pinsker said.

“It is a tragedy and absurdity that we will essentially have debtors’ prisons here in the United States of America,” he said.

In DeBerry’s case, Pro Publica reported that after the Michael Brown killing, “the city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong.”

Still, the lawsuit remains unresolved with the city seeking dismissal.

In 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed more than 1,000 cases in 26 states in which judges, acting on the request of a collection company, issued warrants for people they claimed owed money for “ordinary debts, such as student loans, medical expenses, unpaid rent and utility bills.”

The ACLU said it’s a system that breeds coercion and abuse.

The report concluded that, “with little government oversight, debt collectors, backed by arrest warrants and wielding bounced check demand letters, can frighten people into paying money that may not even be owed.”

Few tools are as coercive or as effective as the threat of incarceration, ACLU report authors said.

As an example, one 75-year-old woman subsisting on $800 monthly Social Security checks, went without her medications in order to pay the fees she believed were required to avoid jail time for bouncing a check.

And as one lawyer in Texas, who has sought arrests of student loan borrowers who are in arrears, said, “It’s easier to settle when the debtor is under arrest,” the report’s authors found.

The people who are jailed or threatened with jail often are the most vulnerable Americans living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial catastrophe, the report said.

Many were struggling to recover after the loss of a job, mounting medical bills, the death of a family member, a divorce, or an illness.

“They included retirees or people with disabilities who are unable to work. Some were subsisting solely on Social Security, unemployment insurance, disability benefits, or veterans’ benefits – income that is legally protected from outstanding debt judgments,” the report’s authors wrote.

Continue Reading

#NNPA BlackPress

REPORT: Black Men Are Biggest Beneficiaries of the First Step Act

NNPA NEWSWIRE — More than 1,000 individuals incarcerated in federal prisons were granted sentence reductions in the four months since the First Step Act was signed into law, according to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).

Published

on

“To be clear, the First Step Act is a win for criminal justice reform. But the Republicans who wrote the law never meant for it to reduce the sentences of hundreds of prisoners. They never intended for it to address the racist war on drugs,” said Michael Harriot in a piece for The Root. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
“To be clear, the First Step Act is a win for criminal justice reform. But the Republicans who wrote the law never meant for it to reduce the sentences of hundreds of prisoners. They never intended for it to address the racist war on drugs,” said Michael Harriot in a piece for The Root. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The First Step Act, which replaced a federal “three strikes” rule that imposed a life sentence for three or more convictions – with a 25-year sentence, is benefiting thousands of incarcerated Black men, according to a new report.

More than 1,000 individuals incarcerated in federal prisons were granted sentence reductions in the four months since the First Step Act was signed into law, according to the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC).

Their sentences were reduced by a mean of 73 months or 29.4 percent, as a result of the resentencing provisions allowed under the Act which, in addition to shortening mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, applied resentencing to be applied retroactively to individuals convicted of crack cocaine offenses before 2010 – when the federal government reduced disparities between crack and powder cocaine offenses.

The USSC found that over a quarter of the 1,051 resentencing motions were granted by federal courts in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.

Over 91 percent of the individuals whose sentences were shortened were African American and 98 percent were male, the USSC said.

The average age of those granted resentencing motions was 45 – and the average age at the time of the original sentence was 32.

“The 2010 re-set of the crack-powder cocaine disparity, under the Fair Sentencing Act passed that year, disparity was aimed at tackling the disproportionate racial impact on nonviolent drug offenders,” according to the Criminal Justice Network’s Crime Report.

Signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, the First Step Act reportedly was the first major overhaul of the nation’s sentencing regime in decades.

“More ambitious overhaul plans had been stalled in Congress, despite widespread bipartisan support,” according to the Criminal Justice Network.

In writing about the latest report on the First Step Act for The Root, Michael Harriot said people should hold off in praising the GOP for reducing sentencing disparities until they understand that the provision that “released these hundreds of black inmates was not included in the first draft of the First Step Act.”

It did not address the crack vs. cocaine disparity. It didn’t address drug sentencing. It didn’t address sentencing reform at all,” Harriot said.

“These amendments were only included when dozens of organizations like the Color of Change and the Prison Policy Initiative urged Democratic lawmakers to vote against the bill unless Republicans agreed to include prison and sentencing reform initiatives,” he said.

Harriot said conservative senators eventually agreed, much to the dismay of hardcore right-wingers like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

“To be clear, the First Step Act is a win for criminal justice reform. But the Republicans who wrote the law never meant for it to reduce the sentences of hundreds of prisoners. They never intended for it to address the racist war on drugs,” he said.

“Even though some people insist that we must  ‘give the president his due,’ the reason hundreds of black people have been removed from America’s system of mass incarceration is that a Democratic senator wrote a bill, a Democratic president signed it and Democrats forced Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress to make it retroactive,” Harriot said.

In a recent Op-Ed, CNN host Van Jones, who worked with lawmakers on Criminal Justice Reform and the co-founder of the #cut50, a bipartisan criminal justice initiative of the Dream Corps., indicated that he’s pleased with the progress of the First Step Act.

“This time last year, practically no one believed that a bipartisan breakthrough of this scale and magnitude was even possible,” wrote Jones, who was on hand for the signing of the legislation.

“For those of us who continue to believe and fight for a victory on what was once considered to be a lost cause, celebrating the First Step Act is something we experience with a great deal of pride,” Jones said.

Continue Reading

#NNPA BlackPress

COMMENTARY: The Black Man Who Saved Memphis: Robert R. Church

NNPA NEWSWIRE — An editorial in the Evening Scimitar in 1899 put Church’s legacy in this context: “It may be said of Robert R. Church that his word is as good as his bond. No appeal to him for the aid of charity or public enterprise for the benefit of Memphis has ever been in vain. He is for Memphis first, last and all the time…”

Published

on

John Overton, Andrew Jackson and James Winchester founded Memphis in 1819. It is safe to say, in 1885, Robert R. Church saved Memphis.

By Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., Special to The New Tri-State Defender

With a 7 p.m. parade down Beale Street to Church Park, Memphis celebrated the birth of Robert Reid Church Sr. as a part of the Memphis Bicentennial.

Mayor Jim Strickland issued a proclamation that was received by Ron Walters, general manager of WREG TV and a local historian. Mini speeches took place and good fellowship abounded.

One hundred eighty years ago, on June 18th in Holly Springs, Miss., Robert R. Church was born to a slave girl named Emmeline and Captain Charles B. Church. Owner and operator of two of the most patronized steamboats on the Mississippi River, Church transported cargo and passengers between Memphis and New Orleans.

In 1851, Emmeline died and Robert Church was sent to live with his father on the Mississippi River. Emmeline had secured Capt. Church’s pledge that her son Robert would never be sold to another slave owner.

Sending Robert to his father was his intended passport to the North and the best education money could buy. Church bonded with his son, deciding to raise him and teach him the steamboat business.

From errand boy to steward, Robert served as an assistant to his father in many capacities, learning the principles of business, with an emphasis on bookkeeping. Capt. Church taught Robert to read and count receipts in French. A fast learner, Robert listened intently to his father’s instructions.

“Be considerate of others but always demand respect for self,” admonished Captain Church to his son. “Never allow anybody to call you a nigger.”

This hands-on education and the 11-year apprenticeship thoroughly prepared Robert for the tumultuous life he would face in the fast-growing river town of Memphis and the bustling street called Beale.

On June 6, 1862, the Civil War registered in Memphis as the Federal Fleet arrived in the Memphis Harbor with cannons blasting. Robert Church was serving as steward of the Victoria. When federal troops took over the Victoria, Robert was forced to make a decision: Be killed or be captured and become a prisoner of war. Robert chose to jump into the river and swim to the muddy banks of Memphis.

With the savings from his work on the river, Robert entered business in Memphis. His first investments were in real estate and soon he expanded to hotels, pool halls, brothels, saloons and, ultimately, a bank.

Soon after the Civil War, Memphis was consumed by the Yellow Fever epidemic and the racial tensions that led to violence, death and destruction. Four days after the announcement that the plague was present in Memphis, 25,000 people fled the city. Robert Church acquired many abandoned properties, expanding on his real estate holdings. He could have left in a panic, choosing instead to contribute generously to helping Memphis recover.

African Americans remained in Memphis and by 1878 they were 70 percent of the population. African Americans constituted an overwhelming majority of the 3,000 nurses left to take care of the stricken. The entire workforce assigned by city officials to clean up the streets, bury the dead, clean up the dumps, drain the bayous, burn contaminated rags and spread lime over the vacant lots were African Americans. These heroic efforts were performed with great risk in the true sense of altruism.

The Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 eroded the tax base and city coffers. Memphis was unable to service a $5 million debt, adequately provide city services and pay state taxes. The city was stripped of its charter and reduced to a taxing district.

The State of Tennessee appointed Dr. D.T. Porter and David Hadden to provide leadership to the “taxing district on the bluff.” Under austere supervision and tight fiscal controls, Memphis began to rise from the ashes of devastation.

Prominent citizens debated strategies to be relieved of the debt and restore Memphis to city status. But Memphis needed investors willing to take a chance on the future. The bond market was uncertain about the potential of Memphis and most citizens were reluctant to take a chance on Memphis.

Throughout, Robert R. Church remained bullish on Memphis. In 1885, he purchased the first $1,000 municipal bond, breaking the dam of fear. By that summer, local banks and wealthy individuals purchased more than $200,000 worth of bonds. Memphis accepted responsibility for the $5 million debt and continued to rid the city of unsanitary conditions.

In 1891, the Tennessee State Legislature restored Memphis’ charter and its city designation. Two years later, Memphis was given taxing authority and home rule. That accomplishment may well be attributable to Robert R. Church for his courageous act of selflessness and his commitment to Memphis.

An editorial in the Evening Scimitar in 1899 put Church’s legacy in this context:

“It may be said of Robert R. Church that his word is as good as his bond. No appeal to him for the aid of charity or public enterprise for the benefit of Memphis has ever been in vain. He is for Memphis first, last and all the time…”

John Overton, Andrew Jackson and James Winchester founded Memphis in 1819. It is safe to say, in 1885, Robert R. Church saved Memphis.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Church; and thanks a million for Memphis and Beale Street!

(“Taking Note!” is a periodic column written by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., pastor emeritus of New Sardis Baptist Church.)

Continue Reading

#NNPA BlackPress

‘My background don’t define me’: Forum aims to connect employers, ex-offenders

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In a capacity crowd at the University Center Ballroom at The University of Memphis, Lori Black blended right in with the business owners, the city officials and corporate execs who gathered there on Tuesday. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was there, as was Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Even Gov. Bill Lee made remarks. And there Black was, rubbing shoulders with all of them, trying to network to find work.

Published

on

Lori Black (right) shares her information with a new contact interested in helping the 52-year-old ex-offender find work. The two met at a forum aimed at connecting employers with the formerly incarcerated. “My background don’t determine me,” a defiant but determined Black said. “Not today, it don’t.” (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

By Lee Eric Smith, New Tri-State Defender
lesmith@tsdmemphis.com

Lori Black is looking for work. She also knows you have to dress for the part, which is why the slim 52-year-old Memphis native made sure she was sharp in her dark pinstripe pants suit – nails done, shoulder length hair flowing.

In a capacity crowd at the University Center Ballroom at The University of Memphis, Black blended right in with the business owners, the city officials and corporate execs who gathered there on Tuesday. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland was there, as was Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris. Even Gov. Bill Lee made remarks. And there Black was, rubbing shoulders with all of them, trying to network to find work.

“I look like I belong here, don’t I?” she said, with a wild gleam in her eyes.

Of course, she was in the right place to find work. The event was “How to Help Your Business and Community: A Forum Connecting Memphis Area Businesses with Sources of Skilled, Qualified Employees Who Are Ex-Offenders,” which was held Tuesday morning at The University of Memphis.

“Part of criminal justice reform, being tough on crime and smart on crime is finding ways for those who will be coming back to find meaningful employment,” Lee told media after addressing the group. “When we make reentry more successful through employment, then we save taxpayer money, because we lower the recidivism rate. And ultimately, we lower the crime (rate), right?”

Lori Black, an ex-offender determined to get a job, pleaded with employers and elected officials to help people like her become productive citizens again. “I’ve got something to contribute,” she said. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

Lori Black, an ex-offender determined to get a job, pleaded with employers and elected officials to help people like her become productive citizens again. “I’ve got something to contribute,” she said. (Photo: Lee Eric Smith)

The idea of the forum was to get government officials, prospective employers, ex-offenders and the agencies that help them all in the same room. Government officials made the case for how jobs can reduce recidivism. Agencies laid out the hidden challenges ex-offenders face after release.

“When an offender is released, they’re already battling someone who doesn’t have a crime for $7 and $8.15 an hour,” said Stacey Books, an ex-offender who’s now a program director with Persevere, an agency that helps ex-offenders find jobs.

And ex-offenders made the case for themselves.

“Taking up the trades I did on the inside helped me build my skill set for where I am now,” said Robert Woods, who is now thriving in what he calls “probably the best job I’ve had in my life.”

But for many prospective employers, a nice suit and friendly personality won’t overcome the fact that ex-offenders are legally required to “check the box” when filling out job applications.

Despite the fact that Black said she’s 10 years sober and has left a troubled past behind her, she’s still an ex-offender. And the stigmas that go with that label has been just too much to overcome.

“I go to put an application in, but all they care about is my background,” she said. “They don’t call me back or nothing. All I hear about is my background.

“My background don’t determine me,” a defiant but determined Black said. “Not today, it don’t.”

Getting employers to see past the offense to the opportunity is paramount, Lee said.

“The key is connecting employers with those that are coming out and breaking down the stigmas and making them understand that there’s a real opportunity for them,” Lee said. “It’s actually a win-win.”

Harold Collins, who heads the Shelby County Office of Re-Entry, echoed that sentiment.

“We tell our prospective employers, we will not send you anybody that we wouldn’t support as being ready to work for you,” Collins said. “That means they have gotten trained, they’ve done the job readiness program. They’ve done the mental health part of the trauma that they’ve experienced while they were incarcerated. They’ve done some mental work about reconnecting with their families. And then they’ve also been drug screened randomly.

“So, we’re not sending you anybody that’s not ready for work. We will put our stamp on that individual let you know that this person is ready,” he continued. “And on top of that, we will bond them. So, there’s really no financial loss to you, should that employee do something wrong.”

Meanwhile, Black just wants another shot. She admits she was out in the streets in her younger years, stealing things to support her addiction to crack.

“I got to running the streets,” Black said. “Got turned out by boys and men. That’s what it was then. But I was chasing that high. I was getting it too.”

Black said she spent a year in a women’s prison but was in and out of jail repeatedly. But she says she never committed a violent crime, and she accepts responsibility for her actions. “I wasn’t doing nothing to nobody but myself,” she said. “If I hurt anybody, I hurt myself.”

So, what does she want to do now? What’s her dream job? “Own my own restaurant,” she said. “I know how to cook, clean up. Hotel work. I can do it all. I got all kinds of experience. I just ain’t been able to use it.”

She may get her chance. While being interviewed for this story, Black was approached by Phunda Sanders, an offender workforce development specialist at the Mark Luttrell Transition Center. “We have clients that we work with, and she had a need. So we had to help her with her need,” Sanders said.

“Somebody is expecting her call,” Sanders said. “It will work out for her.”

When the TSD caught up with Black later in the event, she was chatting up another contact who had asked for her information. Networking had put some pep in her step.

“It makes me feel like I’m worth something,” she said. “I know I’m worth something. I need some help. And I’m determined to get me some help. I’m determined to get me a job. And I’ma keep on till I get it.

“Somebody’s gon’ hire me.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Latest News

%d bloggers like this: