ABOVE PHOTO: Activist at New York City demonstration. (a katz / Shutterstock.com)
In 2015, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the Presidential Circus left the parking lot, we found out how much Black Lives still don’t Matter.
By Denise Clay
Fifty years ago, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led a group of determined activists across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to the nearby capital of Montgomery for the purpose of registering Blacks to vote.
The group included regular folks like Detroit housewife Viola Liuzzo and Cager Lee, whose grandson Jimmy, was killed in service to the movement and people who went on to become icons in the movement including Rosa Parks, Diane Nash and John Lewis. It was the second time that the group had tried the crossing, the first ending in beatings and bloodshed.
After the successful march, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, technically giving Blacks the right to vote.
And folks have spent a lot of time trying to whittle that right down ever since. From creating laws that keep people who have spent time in jail from voting to creating voter identification laws that require a trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles—then closing DMV locations in areas mostly populated by people of color to make getting that ID harder to obtain.
In a way, it’s kind of ironic that 2015 was the year in which we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Act is one of the premiere pieces of legislation in what became a series of civil rights laws that made it easier to do little things like vote, go to school or find a job without having their race, creed or color held against them.
In 2015, civil rights laws, and the people that benefitted from them, really took a beating. Currently, the Department of Justice is investigating a number of police departments in regard to their practices.
On Monday, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced that his office wouldn’t be indicting Cleveland police Officer Timothy Loehmann for murder in the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Tamir was gunned down in front of a community center in Cleveland while brandishing a toy gun. Depending on who you talk to, Loehmann, who had been fired by a police department in Suburban Cleveland because he had shown “signs of instability” when brandishing a gun, shot Tamir quickly because he assumed that the youngster was about to kill him.
Tamir’s family has filed a civil suit against the police department and several other entities in response to the shooting. McGinty threw a little shade their way about that, but financial justice might be the only justice the Rice Family might get.
While this year’s series of confrontations between police and children didn’t always end in death, 2015 still showed that getting police to see Black children as children is still tougher than it ought to be.
It also showed that while most boys are taught at an early age that hitting girls isn’t good, that lesson has been lost on some of the nation’s police.
In McKinney, Texas, the photo of McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt slamming a 14-year-old Black girl to the ground, putting a knee in her back, and pointing his gun at other kids showcased the fact that police brutality was not just for Black boys anymore. The image of the girl, still clad in the bikini she was wearing for the pool party that so incensed people in the development it was held in that they called police, led to the kind of public pressure that makes folks resign, like Casebolt did.
At a high school in South Carolina, School Police Officer Ben Fields violently removed a young girl from her desk and slung her across the classroom for the “crime” of being disruptive in Math class. The video, shot by a fellow classmate who is facing charges of causing a disturbance for doing so, shocked everyone and led to Officer Fields being fired.
Sandra Bland was driving through Prairie View, Texas on her way to a new job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, when she got pulled over for a broken taillight by Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia. Encinia said that Bland was out of control and uncooperative, so he used force to subdue her, arrested her, and charged her with assault on a public servant.
Bland was taken to jail. She never got out. She was found dead in her cell, jail officials said it was a suicide, but her family doesn’t buy it.
A grand jury in Texas decided that it wouldn’t indict anyone in Bland’s death, but will reconvene in January to look at other possible charges in the incident.
But while 2015 brought a lot of moments that made people think that police accountability was an oxymoron like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence”, there were also a few times in 2015 where justice was at least attempted, and even one where justice was achieved.
When he and a friend saw Baltimore police officers at a city intersection, and saw that the police had their eye on them, Freddie Gray, 25, did what most people who have been arrested and have a record do: he ran. When the police caught up to Gray, he didn’t resist. But when he got in the paddy wagon, he apparently talked back to police.
By the time he was admitted to the hospital, Gray had a broken neck, allegedly brought on by a trip in the van that (a) didn’t go directly to the police station and (b) was a ride so bumpy that he needed intensive treatment.
When Gray died, it led to riots, a Department of Justice investigation, and something that the other cases didn’t: indictments. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby indicted the police involved in the incident. The trial of one of the officers, Officer William G. Porter, ended up in a mistrial.
In another instance of police accountability, former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 counts of rape in connection with the rape of 36 Black women that he pulled over on traffic stops.
Because these were women that wouldn’t be automatically believed, many of them didn’t file charges or want to tell anyone. But when he decided to rape Jannie Ligons, a grandmother who he decided to pull over one night, his reign of terror was on its way out.
Holtzclaw, whose conviction was announced on his birthday, is looking at more than 200 in prison.
Chicago Police Officer Jason VanDyke was indicted for allegedly shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. He’s currently out on bail.
Now while this is an example of an attempt at justice in 2015, it’s more important because of who is connected to it. A year ago, when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was running for re-election, a tape of the McDonald shooting was available for people to view…but it was kept out of sight until after Emanuel, who went through a tough re-election campaign, won back his office.
What better way to talk about 2015 in politics than to lead in with the man seen by some as President Barack Obama’s single worst personnel decision?
President Obama is going into his last year in the Oval Office and because of this, folks are lining up to succeed him.
Some of them are no surprise. If you didn’t think that Hillary Clinton was going to run for president again after losing to Obama in 2008, you haven’t truly observed this woman. When she finally announced her intention to go for the office, it was probably one of the worst kept secrets in town.
It also wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Jeb Bush was going to be on the ballot. I mean, hey, his Dad was president. His not-as-bright Brother was president. And some say that he helped give his brother Florida in 2000. Why not run for the office, right?
But some of the other folks who are rolling out of the Presidential Election Clown Car as we enter 2016 may need a little more explanation, especially on the Republican side.
Currently, there are so many people running for the Republican nomination for President that it’s hard to keep up.
No, I mean it. It’s hard to keep up. For example, former New York Gov. George Pataki dropped out of the race on Wednesday. I don’t think that anyone knew he was actually still in it. Most people had forgotten that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was running until he dropped out.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is running, I guess. I know that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is running because he occasionally gets in front of a live microphone and says something ridiculous to remind you that he’s there. Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich is running, and until recently he was one of the few people on the ticket that folks thought made any sense.
Sen. Marco Rubio, former Hewlitt-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson are still on the ticket as of now, although I’m sure that Carson is probably getting ready to compare running for office to slavery, kind of like healthcare reform.
But so far, the 800-lb-gorilla of the GOP Election Cycle is businessman/reality TV star/person with no filter, Donald Trump, whether we like it or not.
Trump, who is best known for dragging Z-list celebrities out of mothballs in the name of charity, has decided to make another run for the nation’s highest office. He started off his campaign with a kickoff event that managed to offend the nation’s Latino community by accusing Mexico of sending “rapist and murderers” to this country.
But if you thought he’d stop there, Trump really won the hearts of people like former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke by making suggestions of things like Muslim internment camps and banning those who practice the religion.
You might think that actions like these might make Black people stay far, far away from Trump, but it hasn’t. A group of Black ministers led by “The Apprentice”’s Omarosa Manigault, met with Trump and some even endorsed him.
Yep. Only in 2015 could you find one guy that could connect a small group of Black ministers and the former Grand Dragon of the KKK.
Whether or not that’s healthy or a good idea for the country is another story.
On the Democratic side, the picture’s a lot less jumbled in that in the eyes of many there’s Hillary, there’s Bernie, and then there’s everybody else.
At one time, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an admitted Socialist who has his partisans within the National Rifle Association, looked to be someone that Clinton could overlook. But he caught on with some of the same people—college kids, members of the far-left—that Obama caught on with. He also began to catch on with the folks in organizations like #BlackLivesMatter, despite a bit of a rocky start with them.
Both are doing better than former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is being treated like an also ran in most polls and even in the debates that have gone on. However, he’s still in the race, unlike former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb and former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee.
The Supreme Court was busy this year. Gay and lesbian couples wishing to marry were granted the right to do so this year thanks to the court’s deciding that denying marriage licenses to such couples is unconstitutional. While the news was greeted with happiness or indifference by most people, the religious right, led by GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (see, I knew I’d forget one) decided it wasn’t going to take this ruling lying down.
Enter Kim Davis, county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. She decided that she was going to use “God’s authority”, which has nothing to do with the Constitution by the way, to defy the court’s ruling. She was jailed a couple of times. The right-wing legal think tank that’s bankrolling her continues to do so. And she managed to get Kentucky’s new governor to pass an executive order to make it so court clerks in Kentucky don’t have to put their names on marriage licenses at all.
See? A tantrum can be effective!
But then again, Republicans in the House of Representatives could have told us that. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner put down the gavel after nearly eight years of trying to herd the cats that make up the House’s Republican caucus. He was replaced by Rep. Paul Ryan, who has already been threatened with being thrown out of the office for considering a compromise budget that might, well, keep the government from shutting down.
As I mentioned earlier, this was the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Partially in celebration of that, the movie Selma hit theaters. Director Ava DuVernay, because she didn’t have access to the speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, (Steven Spielberg had the rights to those) she had to write the script herself.
While that improv didn’t preclude David Oyelowo from giving an awesome performance as King, DuVernay did find herself in the crosshairs of partisans for President Johnson for not portraying him in the most heroic light. The movie was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but it didn’t win.
When the Grammy awards are given out next month, it’s possible that a hip-hop album will make history as the first to win Album of the Year. Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore opus “To Pimp A Butterfly” has been on the top of critic’s lists all year and is nominated for 11 Grammys. He’ll be competing against The Weeknd’s “Beauty Behind The Madness”, and Alabama Shakes “Sound and Color”, for Best Album.
So that’s 2015. Or at least most of it.
Next week, we’ll look at 2016.