Monday, December 17, 2012

When Chickens Come Home to Roost.....

Hello guys.....

By now, we have all cried, watched in horror,and shaken our heads in shock and disbelief over the tragic, senseless shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza, a 20 year old who suffered from mental illness his entire life, entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, armed with enough ammunition and weaponry to murder every child in that school, and proceeded to annihilate 27 human beings before extinguishing his own miserable life, 20 of them being ages six and seven years old.

 I keep listening to national news anchors covering this tragedy, who are predominantly white, and how different their tone is even from the local news anchors here in Chicago.  Nationally, I keep hearing how Newtown was supposed to be a "safe place" for those who live there. Many residents moved from major cities like New York because they wanted to escape "urban violence", thinking that if they moved away from "urban areas", they were indeed safe and sound.

Here locally,however, a much different tone was struck by media. You see, Chicago is well known-perhaps too well known-for senseless acts of gun violence. Chicago has been styled by many as a city where 52 people can be shot in a 40 hour period, all in random parts of the city, and where far too many children are murdered every single month. However, because their faces are black, the national media chooses not to give those stories such expansive coverage. That would interfere with the narrative that "urban violence" is gang related, and is essentially savages killing savages. Local media, whether white or black, get it that no matter what the race of the child, the deeper problem is violence itself and the proliferation of guns in the American culture. They get it, because we know that at any point, someone can be shot and killed, whether on the South side, West side, or in the whitest of suburbs.

This narrative that a white male must be only seriously mentally disturbed, while black murderers are callous, rational, cold blooded killers who are not worth saving or lamenting, despite the dramatically increased amount of mental illness within the African American community is disheartening. Viewing life and death through a purely racial lens allow many to say,"Their problems are not my problems. I am safe in the suburbs away from those savages." We join our voices with all of those who have condemned this as an unbridled act or terror, and do not minimize the horror of December 14th, 2012. I have heard, however, even blacks make silly distinctions between urban violence and what happened in Newtown. "Well with us, its young black men killing young black people!" I heard one lady tell me. I guess she ignored the fact that Adam Lanza is white, and all of his victims were white. 

White on white crime.

What those who choose to make distinctions will not say, is that we as a society, whether we are black or white, value white life more than black life. In fact, black life is not valued at all in this country, and that should be a surprise to no one reading this blog.

 Using this tragedy to begin a dialogue on gun safety laws is fine,but passing legislation to make laws stricter for those who seek to legally purchase semiautomatic weapons does not solve the problem of the millions of illegal weapons that magically funnel themselves into inner city black and Hispanic neighborhoods, allowing far too many children and young people in this nation to still remain at risk.

America is still a racist country.


America's racial subtext creeps into these discussions, and within a week or two, we will act as though this was a distant relic of the past. Many will go back to their insulated bubble, thinking that if they merely escape the stereotypical "gang banging, drug peddling black and Latino male", they can raise their children in quiet suburban areas, or isolated rural areas  without fear. For these people, Sandy Hook Elementary School's tragedy was, if nothing else, a chance to wake up and see violence and murder as an American problem, not a racial one. Since the murders of both Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Attorney General Robert Kennedy in 1968, over one million American citizens have been murdered.

Think about that.

America is the most violent nation in the Western world. 300 million guns-many legal, some illegal-flow through this country as we speak. Gun violence in the United States is twenty times higher than the combined rate of many other nations, according to the UCLA School of Public Health. A nation with its origin in genocidal violence now sees its own bloodstream infected with too much violence today. We must stop trying to compartmentalize Newtown,Connecticut from the South Side of Chicago, and making one set of rationalizations to justify one while acting in horror over the other. Violence is as American as apple pie. Deal with the entire problem, and America just may have a chance to avoid these chickens coming home to roost.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Open Letter to the P.O.T.U.S. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Hey guys....below is the text of a letter I recently sent to the White House. Let me know what you guys think!)

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Hassan Hartley, and I am an author, activist, convicted felon, and  small business owner.  Congratulations on having been elected to a second term,so now let's get to business: there is a perception among many in black America that a “black agenda” has not clearly been outlined for you to incorporate into your policy decisions.  I have been reading your PDF file located on the White House website entitled, “The President’s Agenda and the African American Community”,and you make some great rhetorical points in the document. What troubles me as I read it, is that it appears to be little more than platitudes and glittering generalities. It appears as though some measure to scramble together bullet points to appease African Americans for election purposes was the intent behind the agenda. 

As a former convicted felon, who has authored a book on some aspects of social, cultural and political aspects of the Prison Industrial Complex, what troubles me is that more is not done legislatively to correct the damaging policies of the “War On Drugs” on millions of young black men who have been convicted of low-level drug crimes. Young black men who,socioeconomically, for all intents and purposes, are trapped in a cycle of recidivism that devastates the African American community exponentially. Family bonds are often strained, even destroyed, and children are being raised in marginalized subcultures that accept limited education and mass incarceration as real possibilities for their lives.

Lives ruined because of low level drug crimes, crimes that their white counterparts, commit with equal frequency, if not greater frequency, but who are not targeted, arrested, convicted and sentenced at nearly the rate as someone who looks like you or me.

No one expects you, Mr. President, from the Oval Office, to wave a magic wand to heal the ills of Black America. There are things that can be done, however, in terms of policy, to put us in a better position to be able to help ourselves. In her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”, Michelle Alexander astutely points out that more black men are under the control of the criminal justice system today, primarily because of the War on Drugs, than there were black people enslaved in the South after the 1850 Census (3.5 million).

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 is a start, but far more must be done. Attempting to reduce recidivism with Reentry Councils is laudable, but legislation that allows an offender to vote, not have his or her criminal record impact their ability to gain employment, and be able to truly turn the page on the mistakes of the past, needs to be crafted as soon as possible. As an entrepreneur, I am glad to see more being done for small business owners like myself(although I am currently a one man LLC), but I haven’t felt the policies kick in yet, and getting a Small Business Loan for someone in my position is difficult, at best.

I would love to work with your Reentry Council to help ex-offenders not only get properly trained to enter or re-enter the job market, but be able to become legitimate small business owners as well. This seems more realistic than hoping other companies will offer us a job coming out of prison. Teaching these young men how to fish, instead of offering a fish, will help out tremendously. Many of these young brothers literally have reading levels at or near the third grade. This is particularly troubling to see young men ages 18-35 that cannot read on a fourth grade level, but who, if trained properly, could maximize a wealth of talents and skills to help make this nation even greater.

It fuels my cynicism to see the public school system so badly broken as it is. Schools in "urban" areas are a joke, even compared to my days as a teenager, and they were not a sparkling gem of a model even then. There is a direct relationship between a lack of education and crime/incarceration, and you can alleviate some tax burden on the American people by quoting the disparity between what it costs to incarcerate a citizen, and what it costs to educate one.

 I wonder sometimes if a dumber, less critical electorate becomes a more manageable one, particularly for corporate special interests who pillage the middle class and poor with ruthless efficiency. These same corporations invest heavily in privatized prisons, while the public schools become veritable wastelands. If the "underclass" is allowed to expand due to mass incarceration at this same rate, this great nation will fall to the ignominy of many other  nations before her.

I pray for your continued success, Mr. President, as your success will translate hopefully into America’s success. Thank you or your staff for taking the time to read these few words.

I am,
A Friend and Supporter,

Hassan Hartley

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