Dead Prostitutes – Does Anyone Care? MOMS does.

So many American cities have women who, for one reason or another, live on the margins. In some cases, they are that sad combination of hooker and drug addict. They sell sex to feed their habits, or to feed their children.

In one small, North Carolina City, nine such women have vanished since 2005.

rocky mount women

Six were later found dead, murdered but so decomposed that finding a cause of death became near impossible. All of the victims were black.

The city is Rocky Mount, 60 miles northeast of Raleigh. Sadly, the story of prostitutes who die by violence is not unique to this particular place. Yet residents of Rocky Mount tell a story of alleged police inaction due largely to the lifestyles of the victims. That too is not unique. It’s almost a given that serial killers can ply their trade among prostitutes and drug addicts because it takes so long for the law to recognize what’s happening.

In the case of Rocky Mount, it wasn’t until the latest victim was discovered in June that  local and state police formed a task force, and it was last month that the FBI got involved. They won’t say if they suspect a serial killer, but an awful lot of people in Rocky Mount think its the work of one man. Keep in mind that three women have disappeared, and none of them have been found.

The issue here, beyond the tragedy of these homicides, is the value of human life. Say what we will about all being equal, we treat some as less than equal, in some cases, far less. The life of a drug addicted hooker isn’t one to envy on any level. Still, our own humanity should demand we care, especially if such women are deliberately targeted.

In a couple of cases, women who walked the streets of Rocky Mount and jumped in and our of cars with men decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

One woman who knew two of the victims has founded a group to publicize the slayings, and to search for the three women who remain missing.

The group is called Murdered or Missing Sisters or MOMS. They’ve raised awareness to the point that national media has begun to cover the story.

While that’s all well and good, one wonders if these killings would have been highlighted sooner if the women involved weren’t part of that shadow world of people living on society’s margins.

Will we ever consider that their lives mean as much as anyone else’s? You tell me.

Advertisements

Paula Abdul or William Jefferson…Which Story’s Bigger? You Decide.

Today, dear reader, I’m going to let you decide which is the bigger story.

Is it former Louisiana Cong. William Jefferson being convicted on corruption charges, or is it Paula Abdul leaving “American Idol”?

I know which one is bigger to me, but that’s just me. If you go by the Google News tally, it’s no contest. So which should command our attention? Is it a marginally talented singer/dancer/choreographer who didn’t get the money she wanted, or the ethically challenged legislator who most folks now feel got what he deserved?

paula.abdul

I must admit, I don’t “get” “American Idol”. I’m not one of those who, like my wife and daughter, sit glued to the TV whenever Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and company are on. Talents contests are as old as the medium itself, and there’s plenty on the tube more spacey than Paula and more acerbic than Simon . Yet there’s no doubting that “Idol” is, as Abdul modestly puts it, an international phenomenon.

Does that mean she’s worth the money she was asking for? Not if I had to pay it. I’m sure Paula Abdul won’t miss any meals after her departure, and there are reports she’s already being wowed by other show producers. Good for her. I just never thought she had the chops to judge the talent of others. Her singing has been described, not be me, as “thin and transparent”. Yes, she’s a great choreographer, but “American Idol” wasn’t about dancing. Anyway, you get my drift. To me, her leaving “American Idol” will never, ever be confused with getting those journalists out of North Korea.

Nor does it compare to the stunning fall from grace of William Jefferson, the first black congressman elected from the state of Louisiana since Reconstruction.

WilliamJefferson

Some may have forgotten his sad saga, but in 2005, the FBI raided his CD home and found $90,000 dollars stashed in a freezer. The money was a payoff to the Vice President of Nigeria for help in launching a telecommunications venture.

William Jefferson became another first in May of 2006, when the FBI seized his computer hard drive and office files in the Rayburn House Office Building. It was the first time that happened to a sitting member of Congress. Now, Jefferson stands convicted on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. At 62, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, I happen to be a political junkie, which is why William Jefferson trumps Paula Abdul in my book. Yet I know I’m probably in the minority. Most people will be huddled around their water coolers today, talking not about a disgraced former congressman, but about an out of work former Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader.

So, you tell me. Which story is bigger?

“Beer Summit”- Teachable Moment or Insult?

So was anything really accomplished at Thursday’s meeting between President Barack Obama, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley? Perhaps, in its own way, it was an amicable means of defusing what threatened to become a racial time bomb. The July 16th incident, and the president’s reaction to it, touched off a media firestorm only partly explained by the fact it’s summer, and media typically trolls for news about now.

obama beer summit

I have to admit, there’s a part of me that takes umbrage at the notion that this meeting represented a watershed event in US race relations. In fact, the idea of a “beer summit” insults the memories of people like Medgar Evers, the four little girls bombed to death in the basement of a Birmingham church, Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner. These were people who died so these three plus Vice President Joe Biden could share that beer at the White House.

A harsh assessment? Maybe. But in this age of media hype, there’s no other way to put it. Put simply, could Gates have chilled a bit when confronted by Crowley? Sure. Could Crowley have defused the situation instead of blowing it up by arresting Gates? Yep. Could Obama have chosen his words more carefully, so as not to stoke the media fire? Yes again. Yet none of these things rise to the level of scrutiny the incident has received.

Why all the fuss? Because by using the words “acted stupidly”, Barack Obama stepped out of his assigned role as America’s non racial black president. Suddenly, as far as the media was concerned, he became a spokesman for his race. You can almost hear people thinking, “Geez, we didn’t elect him to talk about racial injustice. Racial responsibility, fine. But not this”.

Which brings up the question, why not this? Why shouldn’t this president be as free to talk about race in  this context as, say, Bill Clinton was? Why hasn’t the issue of racial profiling moved beyond the occasional story in local media? Alas, Barack Obama learned he won’t be able to opine about these sorts of things in the future. Politically, the cost was too high.

When you’re trying to get health care reform passed, talking about race creates a problem. Barack Obama knows this, just as he knows knocking back a cold one with Crowley and Gates won’t change the attitude of that Boston cop who referred to Gates as a “jungle monkey”.

That actually takes work. So just what did Thursday’s beerfest actually accomplish? You tell me.

Beer for Obama…Will the Gates Story Ever End?

If you have any doubts about how central the issue of race remains in America, consider this. The Google News front page lists the major news stories of the day. Robert Gates is in Iraq.

There are 750 stories flagged about that.

Seven men were busted on terror conspiracy charges in North Carolina. There are 1166 articles about that. The health care debate warrants 733 articles. The continuing controversy over Henry Louis Gates, Barack Obama, and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge police? 2722 articles. Everyone, and I mean everyone is weighing in on both sides of the racial fault line.

Some dwell on President Obama’s “acted stupidly” comment. While truth might be an absolute defense under normal circumstances, the screaming and hollering that followed kept the story alive, and insured an Obama retraction, or “modification”, or however you want to describe it. Then the president, not “acting stupidly”, invites both Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley to the White House to share that most working class of liquid concoctions, a beer.

obama_beer

Hopefully, some common ground can be found here. Like maybe Crowley’s actions weren’t smart, and neither were Gates’. Do they balance each other out? That largely depends on how you look at things. If you support the police, the scales are obviously on the side of Sgt. Crowley, a cop trying to do his job who was unfairly berated first by Gates, then by the President of the United States. If you’ve ever been the victim of racial profiling, or understand how prevalent a law enforcement tool it’s been, then Skip Gates’ anger is entirely justified, as is his belief that he was treated differently because of his race.

So what does it all boil down to? Is it, as ABC News reports, a question of what beer Obama chooses for this monumental event? Is it who speaks first, who says sorry, and whether or not they shake hands?

Trust me, that’s what you’ll get as “analysis” from even the most “reputable” media. Never mind the health care quagmire, that can wait. Robert Gates (no relation to Skip) in Iraq? Big deal. Better to spend time and effort on Skip Gates, Sarah Palin, the “birthers” movement, and God knows what else. Will somebody focus on what Obama wears to this meeting? Will Gates and Crowley come dressed casual or in suits and ties?

You get the picture. Race matters. A lot. There are those who believe that the election of Barack Obama signaled a turn toward the nation’s post-racial future. Not so fast. There’s real work to do.

What do you think? Is the media overplaying the Gates controversy?

Skip Gates Busted- At Home While Black?

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was busted last week in the comfort of his own home. As far as anyone can tell, the reason was because he wasn’t happy at being confronted by police after a neighbor reported a break-in.

skip gates mugshot

The break-in was Skip Gates trying to enter his own home.

skip.gates

Even more interesting, Gates was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space”.

Okay. This happened in Cambridge, which last I checked was in the Boston area. If cops arrested every college kid who got “loud and tumultuous in a public space”, how many kids would be in jail?

Skip Gates was mad because he felt he was being profiled.

At issue here, beyond whether he identified himself to police (there are reports he did, and reports he didn’t), is the maddening sense that no matter how far you get in life, to some people you’re just another black m an. That, and whether expressing that emotion to a cop who at some point must have known he made a mistake constitutes a crime. There will be people, both black and white, who will argue that this incident is being blown out of proportion. Some will even bring up Barack Obama as proof Skip Gates is simply a malcontent with no beef here.

To all those who think there is no consequence to being black in America, I give you the case of Shem Walker.

This Brooklyn Army veteran was shot and killed by an undercover cop on July 11th. His crime? He confronted the cop, who was posing as a drug dealer, on the stoop of his mother’s house.

shem walker

Shem Walker had experienced problems before with people dealing on his mother’s stoop. He paid for his concern with his life. No one is alleging overt racism. The cop who killed him was also black. Yet for all the news about Skip Gates, Shem Walker generates no national headlines.

Some may make the case there’s no link between the two. Those of us who are black and have made it to a certain age know better. Law enforcement makes certain assumptions about black men. Not all do, but enough do that it’s a problem for those who live their lives within the law.  It may not be as pronounced as the days when Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Les Payne was stopped by cops a black from his Long Island home and told there’s no way he could actually live there.

But then, to Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, it’s as if very little has changed. To the family of Shem Walker, you can change very little to nothing.

So you tell me. Was Henry Louis Gates racially profiled?

Will the Bronx Hear Obama’s Message?

President Obama always makes a big splash when he comes to New York City.

Thursday was no exception. He spoke at the NAACP’s annual convention, and brought the audience to its feet more than once. It was his most direct speech on issues of race since the campaign, and contained more than one reference to the need for black people to take individual responsibility for bettering our condition.

I spent part of Thursday in a part of New York City that’s not too far from the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan where the president spoke. Not too far, at least, as the crow flies.

In some ways, the  West Bronx is a world away from Midtown. Walk its streets and you experience hope and despair simultaneously. There’s the hopeful hum of road repair and new construction. Unlike “back in the day”, a good number of wearing the hard hats are people of color.

You look in wonder at a vest pocket community garden on Morris Ave. just below 181st St.

You hear the laughter of young children at a playground up the block. A couple of blocks away, the rumble of the elevated subway provides a tympani roll every five minutes or so. Whether walking or driving through the Bronx, you realize this place has a rhythm all its own. The smells of restaurant food from the English and Spanish speaking Caribbean come together to remind you it’s almost lunchtime.

Yes, warts and all, the Bronx is a beautiful place to me. Yet I know better than to try to romanticize it. As President Obama told the NAACP, much still needs to be done. On that note, a thought came to me as I digested the speech and my trip to the Bronx at the same time. While it’s fine for the president to talk about individual and family responsibility, what about the responsibility of politicians to better the conditions of poor, working people in places like the West Bronx?

Recent local developments could lead one to conclude some politicians are acting as irresponsibly as fathers who make babies and then abandon them. They build fiefdoms through providing needed services like health care, then pay themselves princely salaries in addition to what  they make as lawmakers. The recent gridlock in the New York State Senate, the inability of California lawmakers to work out a budget agreement, and other examples around the country seem to say the need for responsibility doesn’t stop at the doorstep of black America.

Maybe one day soon, President Obama will get to walk the streets of the Bronx?

He certainly walked the streets of Chicago as a community organizer, so he knows the pain of poverty and dashed expectations first hand. That’s why his message resonates with many in the black community. He needs to deliver that same message to greedy, avaricious politicians, even if they’re members of his political party.

You think it would make a difference?

Will Sotomayor Choreography Change Outcome?

For the record, there are 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They’re the ones holding hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the US Supreme Court.

sonia_sotomayor

The Republicans know going in that, absent some bombshell revelation, she’ll be confirmed. That means the hearings, which will likely last the rest of the week, are about the pageantry and stage managing the Beltway is famous for.

Republicans own no franchise here. It wasn’t that long ago (was it?) that Democrats played about the same role when Samuel Alito was confirmed.

Justice_Alito_official

For the 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the televised hearings represent a chance  to show their rhetorical chops to the folks back home. Take my word for the fact that none will mentioned that all but two of them are white men. Regardless, each will play their role.

Chief among the antagonists is Jeff Sessions of Alabama. He’s been honing his act for the past several weeks, most recently on “Meet the Press”. Problem is, his blathering about justices not having empathy based on their life experience flies in the face of what Justice Alito himself has said on more than one occasion. Someone is sure to b ring up the fact that of five cases Judge Sotomayor ruled on that went to the Supreme Court, three were reversed.

Again, the Republicans will be forced to look at Alito’s record, which shows both cases he ruled on that went to the High Court were reversed . We already know the lead plaintiff in the infamous New Haven firefighters case will testify for the GOP. Former Yankee pitcher David Cone is set to testify as well. And all this for an outcome that, barring an earth shattering development, is pre-ordained.

Say what you will about President Barack Obama. In picking Sonia Sotomayor he got it right. The Republicans know it. So do the Democrats. The hearings are merely a formality. So that brings up the question of what Judge Sotomayor’s appointment to the court actually means. If people think it will change its fundamentally conservative nature, they’re in for a disappointment. The nucleus of Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy remains intact. Of this quintet, only Kennedy is an occasional wild card.

So what do the Republicans really fear? Is it the nominee herself, or is it her potential powers of persuasion? Sonia Sotomayor is no doctrinaire progressive. Her seven minute speech Monday was designed not to grate. “The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law”, says the nominee. Maybe so. Yet we all know the application of law changes over time. Otherwise, we’d still be living under Plessy vs. Ferguson, wouldn’t we? We ought to remember that the decision that found separate but equal to be constitutional was 7-1.

Anyway, that’s another argument for another day. The question as these hearings move forward is this. Can the Republicans stop Sonia Sotomayor? Should they even try?