New Orleans: Army Corps Washed Away Accountability

My good friend Davell Crawford (the Piano Prince of New Orleans) recently covered a classic Randy Newman song called Louisiana 1927 (you can hear it by going to his home page). The lyrics chronicle the Mississippi Flood of 1927, and in Newman’s lyrics, he declares “They tryin’ to wash us away.” Davell re-writes a lyric originally about President Calvin Coolidge, and replaces him with George W. Bush.

Maybe they really are trying to wash “us” away again. It’s interesting that yesterday, John Edwards chose New Orleans to announce the halting of his presidential bid, that a federal judge begrudgingly threw out a clas action suit by the people of New Orleans against the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Associated Press reported that “Judge Stanwood Duval said he was forced by law to hold the Corps immune even though the agency failed to ‘cast a blind eye’ in protecting New Orleans and ‘squandered millions of dollars in building a levee system … which was known to be inadequate by the Corps’ own calculations.’ But, Duval said, ‘it is not within the Court’s power to address the wrongs committed. It is hopefully within the citizens of the United States’ power to address the failures of our laws and agencies.'”

What’s so sinister is the ruling was based on a law written conspicuously after the 1927 flood–the Flood Control Act of 1928–which made the federal government immune from lawsuits when flood control projects like levees break.

* * *

I was in the 9th ward just a few weeks ago–the week leading into MLK Day. It was the first time I had been back since Spring of 2005, and I had lived in New Orleans for a year. The failures of the city, state and federal government are so egregious that it is difficult to imagine that they are in fact, failures, and not actually a contrived negligence. And the failure, conspiracy or negligence (you choose!) that caused the death and displacement in the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina, is not so much about the weather. It’s about the profound racism that forced hundreds of thousands of Black people into the conditions that would mean their certain demise just by virtue of being redlined for generations on the downside of a canal, or kept in substandard public housing. Or warehoused in Orleans Parish Prison.

I was accosted one night in the French Quarter during my trip 2 weeks ago by 2 unidentified plain clothes security officers who looked like professional wrestlers–and I know they were not the NOPD. I was accused of trying to rob my friends I was just a few feet behind on my bike. So for those of us who weren’t washed away in the storm, or carted off to destinations all across the nation–the prison and the jailer awaits.

They tryin to wash us away–and absolve themselves of the responsibility.

In Memoriam: Regina Shavers

I just learned that longtime Black lesbian activist and Executive Director of Griot Circle, Regina Shavers, died of cancer yesterday.

Regina was another elder, like Bob Kohler, who I met when I was doing work as an adult ally with FIERCE! around 2001. If you are familiar with FIERCE!’s video “Fenced Out” Regina talks alot about what it was like to be a black lesbian in NYC in the 1950/60’s. My favorite quote from her in that film, when asked by members what women would do if accosted by homophobes in the street she responded, “We kicked their fuckin ass!”

I was supposed to interview Regina for a book I am co-editing called “A New Queer Agenda” on issues of aging as a Black lesbian, but she has been really sick and we weren’t able to connect in December as planned. I am deeply sorry we weren’t able to complete this project, but there are many ways her work and legacy live on.

She wrote a piece for Colorlines in 2005 that is well worth reading, and here’s some of that narrative:

“I grew up in Brooklyn. When I was in high school in the 1950s, I always knew I was a lesbian. I can’t tell you when I first knew; I’ve always known. In high school, I met other lesbians. When we talked about being gay around other people, we always talked in code. African-American code is “one of the children,” like “so and so is one of the children,” or we’d say a person was “in the life.” Of course, you have to realize, too, in those days that just wearing pants signified that you were gay or crazy. If you did anything that was out of the gender norm, everybody was aware of it immediately.

I was a gender bender. I wanted to wear pants. But my mother wanted a daughter who had little tea parties. I used to wear pinafores and Shirley Temple curls and little Mary Jane shoes. That’s what my mother wanted, so any time I deviated from that she had a fit; nobody could understand it. One time I bought a pair of jeans, and I wore them home so she wouldn’t make me take them back.

I used to hang out at the gay clubs in New York’s West Village. At the bars, there certainly were older [lesbians], but I didn’t think about older people. We had a fine life–and by that I mean we knew people in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens. You could go to two or three dances in one night. One of the things about being so closeted is that we were in a special club. And the special club had its own life.”

There’s a short biography you can also read of her from Google Books from the book The Many Faces of Gay: Activists Who Are Changing the Nation.

Also, a blog called The Butch Caucus has already posted a memorial to Regina. Here’s a bio that Queers for Economic Justice, the organization for which I serve as Board Co-chair sent out about Regina:

REGINA SHAVERS founded the GRIOT Circle, “an intergenerational and culturally diverse community-based social service organization responsive to the realities of older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, two-spirit and transgender people (LGBTST) of all colors.”

Regina Shavers had a long history of community involvement and activism.

As co-chair of District Council 37 she advocates for workers’ rights, and serves on the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Lesbian and Gay Rights Advisory Board. She played an active role in the Campaign for and Inclusive Family Policy, the citywide coalition that negotiated with Mayor David N. Dinkins to obtain Domestic Partner benefits for
New York City employees.

She also helped to found Pride At Work, a constituency group of the AFL-CIO that focuses on the rights and unionization of LGBT workers.

Regina was also the former Assistant Director of the NYC Department of Health’s HIV Training Institute. Here, she created and implemented curricula for HIV prevention and treatment, including curricula specifically tailored towards older populations. Regina continued with her HIV/AIDS facilitation as a member of the New York Association on HIV Over Fifty (NYAHOF).

In 1995, Regina co-founded GRIOT Circle to combat the lack of community that she had observed amongst LGBT Elders, particularly those of color. She assumed the role of Executive Director of GRIOT in 2000.

Regina Shavers founded the GRIOT Circle as “an intergenerational and culturally diverse community-based social service organization responsive to the realities of older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, two-spirit and transgender people (LGBTST) of all colors.” The goal of GRIOT Circle is to maintain a safe space for elders, provide emotional support and quality programming which affirms
age, gender, racial, spiritual and ethnic origins for the over 50 LGBTST community in Brooklyn. GRIOT Circle provides educational and informational forums, referrals to social service providers, health and fitness programs, spiritual wellness, computer training, a friendly visitors program and social outreach. Volunteer members make reassurance telephone calls and visits to homebound, sick or hospitalized persons.

UPDATE: In honor of Regina V. Shavers there will be a Celebration of Life Service on Saturday, February 2nd, 2008. Services to be held at:

Liberation In Truth Unity Fellowship Church
608 Broad Street, @ Trinity & St. Philips Cathedral
Newark, New Jersey 07102 (PATH Train to Newark–Church is about a 7 min walk from Newark Penn Station).

Viewing will be from 11 AM until 12:30.
Celebration service will follow from 12:30 to 2 PM
Immediately there after the family invites you to join them in a repass to be held at 24 Rector Street.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in the name of Regina Shavers to one of the following organizations;

Lavender Light, The Black and People of all Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Choir
70 –A Greenwich Street #315
New York, New York 10011

Griot Circle, Inc.
25 Flatbush Avenue, 5th floor
Brooklyn, New York 11217-1101

Liberation in Truth Unity Fellowship Church
P.O. Box 200434
Riverfront Plaza Station
Newark, New Jersey 07102

Obama-Clinton Showdown: The Lessons of South Carolina

Blogger Jonathan Stein over at Mother Jones beat me to the punch on this one, but that’s one of the tragedies of having a full-time job and trying to blog at the same time. But in all the back patting or weeping (depending on who’s side you’re on) over the South Carolina primaries, Stein at MJ and I are asking the same question: Did the Clinton camp intentionally lose SC to “niggerize” Obama to cut white support from under him?

I definitely think it’s a possibility. First off, the media has been referring to the SC primary as “the Black Primary” because it’s a 30% Black state, and 50% of the voting Democrats in the state are of African descent. With the nation already thinking about what would happen in SC as representative of Black people, here’s what occurred:

  1. Hillary Clinton—in an attempt to pain Obama as some ragtag feel good community organizer and not presidential—used the analogy that while MLK mobilized people, it took LBJ to pass the Civil Rights Act. Black people took offense to that.
  2. Bill Clinton appeared on radio to defend him, and called Obama’s campaign a fantasy.
  3. BET founder Bob Johnson went off on Obama when introducing Senator Clinton at a rally in SC—basically insinuating that Obama was getting high on coke in Chicago while Hillary was serving the Nation.
  4. Then Bill Clinton performed less like the spouse of a candidate and more like a running mate (He even appeared on television to essentially deliver her concession speech after she lost), by appearing all over the place making comments about Obama and using verbiage to link him to Jesse Jackson.

The niggerization campaign in full effect. I think this turned a lot of Black people off to the Clintons, quite frankly, who overwhelmingly (81%) voted for Obama in South Carolina. Even though Obama had a great deal of support of the white voters under 30 years of age, the fact that he won in the Black primary became the story.

The Obama camp has known for some time that they simply cannot run him as a candidate who is concerned only about Black America if they want to have any real chance of winning. But was the Clinton strategy to force Obama off of his “above the political fray and above racial politics” message done to permanently smear his image with white and Latino voters to lessen his chance of winning the states where she is more competitive on Super Tuesday?

I think this bears some thinking about.

What may be problematic for her is the fact that the political establishment that has remained neutral so far may begin to shift to Obama’s camp. Congressman James Clyburn of SC had some thinly veiled harsh words for the Clinton Campaign after Obama’s win, saying about the Obama win: “‘I’m not surprised at that at all…Because I really believe that in the last 48 hours the voters recoiled. They decided to reject the racial animus they seemed to be developing and I’m so pleased.’

This weekend (and today, Monday) it was announced that two Kennedy’s–Caroline and Senator Ted–endorsed Obama. And most surprising, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison endorsed Obama today.

Where this strategy may perhaps get her a nomination at the summer DNC, it may hurt her chances in the fall. Black people, if they feel Clinton played dirty to shut down the chances of the first Black President to be elected, may turn on her and simply not vote in November. Will it then have been worth it?

For more interesting commentary on Obama’s de-racialized campaign read an article from 2007 in In These Times from a person who knows him, and my good friend Kai Wright’s new piece in The Root (a brand new “Black” online publication—owned by the Washington Post. Henry Louis Gates is Editor-in-Chief.

Non-Shock of The Week: Report Shows Bush & Crew Lied A Lot to Justify Iraq War

It may not come as a surprise to you, but the Bush Administration (including George W. himself) orchestrated a PR campaign full of lies and untruths to justify going to war in Iraq, according to a new report issued by the Center for Public Integrity and the Fund for Independence in Journalism.

Hadn’t this already been determined? I mean, I knew they were lying from jump (they were talking after all, weren’t they? That whole “Bush Lied” campaign is tired. We know that. And he doesn’t give a fuck, nor do the people who continue to support him. Now what?), and story after story has shown that they knew they were bullshitting from the beginning. But oh well. I guess yet another study will hammer the point home. Here’s what they found:

“President George W. Bush and seven of his administration’s top officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, made at least 935 false statements in the two years following September 11, 2001, about the national security threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.

On at least 532 separate occasions (in speeches, briefings, interviews, testimony, and the like), Bush and these three key officials, along with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan, stated unequivocally that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (or was trying to produce or obtain them), links to Al Qaeda, or both. This concerted effort was the underpinning of the Bush administration’s case for war.”

Now, I think this probably deserved more attention in the news this week than it got. But really, is it a shocker?

Supreme Court Ruling: No Recourse if The Cops Destroy or Steal Property

Heath Ledger was unfortunately found dead in his apartment in SoHo, NYC yesterday. Only 28 years old. Though I feel bad for his family’s loss, this news will probably dominate the airwaves over the next several days, going head to head with the presidential election as the news of the week.

But don’t sleep. NY Times reporter Linda Greenhouse just reported on a decision of the Supreme Court that may impact any of us who find ourselves subject to police investigation, search and seizure, arrest, prosecution and/or imprisonment.

The case revolved around, as Greenhouse reports “a Abdus-Shahid M. S. Ali, was being transferred from a federal prison in Atlanta to one in Inez, Ky., and left two duffle bags of personal property to be shipped. When he received the bags, religious articles, including two copies of the Koran, were missing. Valuing the missing items at $177, Mr. Ali filed suit, appealing to the Supreme Court after the federal appeals court in Atlanta had dismissed his case…”

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, upheld the 1946 Federal Tort Claims Act, which gave citizens the right to sue the United States itself negligent actions of agents of the United States, but it has some exceptions. Mostly it seems to suggest that the exceptions are “based upon an act or omission of an employee of the Government, exercising due care in the execution of a statute or regulation” or “based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty.”

So if a customs agent has to break your vase to find the coke stashed in it, you cannot sue them for damages. But one could argue that in the case of Ali, the government was negligent, and it wasn’t due their needing to “perform a discretionary function or duty.”

Greenhouse reports that the main issue at hand in this case however is that the law also excludes “’any officer of customs or excise or any other law enforcement officer’ will be immune from suit for ‘any claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax or customs duty or the detention of any goods, merchandise or other property.’”

The current Supreme Court seemed to interpret that “any other law enforcement officer” to mean “no law enforcement officer” ever could be found to be negligent under this law–not just those involved in customs work, which basically renders the entire law a moot point by this logic (any lawyers out there, feel free to correct me on this.).

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his decision that the original law “could easily have written ‘any other law enforcement officer acting in a customs or excise capacity’…We are not at liberty to rewrite the statute to reflect a meaning we deem more desirable.”

Letter to the New York Times on HIV and Gay Youth Editorial

(originally published on www.preventionjustice.org

Today the New York Times published a batch of letters responding to their editorial on rising HIV rates in young gay men. Since they didn’t publish my letter written as CHAMP staff, I thought I’d do it here (This is why we love the Internet!):

The January 14th editorial, “HIV Rises in Young Gay Men,” spent a lot of energy blaming 19-year olds, and ignored core issues that hamper effective prevention efforts.

A recent Journal of Adolescent Health study counted youth homelessness as a major factor in HIV risk. The New York City Council commissioned a 2007 report showing that one-third of all homeless youth in NYC were gay.

Congress continues to bankroll abstinence-only education programs in spite of the proven increase risk behavior they cause. Though the HIV epidemic grows worse in black and Latino communities, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) budget has remained stagnant for a decade.

We still have no national HIV prevention plan, 27 years into the epidemic.

Young gay men are not to blame for the profound failure of government to provide comprehensive HIV prevention—nor for the media’s continued ignorance of the root causes of HIV.

The Dirty Dozens: Race, Civil Rights and the Democrats

It’s gettin hot in herr! The gloves are coming off, and people are now being forced to take sides. Senator Hillary Clinton has been trying to spin herself out of a whole she dug when she, at an attempt to dig at Senator Barack Obama, said that while he likes to compare himself to MLK, it took a president–Lyndon B. Johnson–to pass the Civil Rights Act.

The blacks are giving her hell over that comment, and on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” she said that the Obama campaign was “deliberately distorting” her comments.

Well I saw the interview when it aired, and no, no one is distorting her comments. She said something really politically foolish trying to one-up Obama, and she got caught out there. I thought at the time that that statement was going to come back to haunt her.

But it doesn’t end there. Saturday, Bob Johnson, founder of BET had the unmitigated gall to stand up in front of a crowd and act as the authority on Black people, and defend Clinton’s record with Black people. Johnson said

“To me, as an African American, I am frankly insulted the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues — when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood; I won’t say what he was doing, but he said it in his book — when they have been involved.”

He later said he was not referring to Obama’s admitted drug use. As black as the Clintons think they are, they are white enought to not realize how many Black people actually despise Bob Johnson. Many of us blame him for cutting BET news programming (and firing Tavis Smiley), and turning the channel into a video channel replete with images of violent black masculinites, hypersexualized black women, with a hefy dash of homophobia. In fact, THE SAME NIGHT he made these comments, Black folks were protesting outside the taping of a BET Awards show in DC.

Johnson is also the sleaze bag who moved the show Comic View from Los Angeles to Atlanta, allegedly in order to avoid paying unionized rates to comics appearing on the show. Not that I care about that modern day minstrel show, but it was still a low blow.

To make matters even worse, I just saw a debate on PBS’ The New Hour between SCLC veteran Rev. Joseph C. Lowry (Team Obama) and Civil Rights vet Rep. John Lewis (Team Clinton). John Lewis had the nerve to defend Clinton on the basis that “The Clintons would never do anything to harm African-Americans.” I am not sure if that’s a direct quote, but it’s definitely not far off. He said it twice.

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH US?

I can definitely understand why black people may not necessarily be in 100% Barack’s camp, but I certainly cannot understand why some of us back Clinton over him–and completely uncritically.

But I said a few posts ago this election was going to help expose the tensions of the civil rights old guarde as they fall out of favor. Not because Black people are more conservative, but because they are now too entrenched in the machine to be effective as agitators. And their tacit support of the Clintons against a Black candidate generally more progressive than either Bill or Hillary, is quite telling. William Jelani Cobb has a great article in the Washington Post about this very issue.