By Freddie Allen, Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. (NNPA) – In the wake of the mass murder of nine Black church members in Charleston, S.C. and the rash of unsolved fires at Black churches in the South, a coalition of Black groups are calling on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order to establish a “reparatory justice” commission.
“This is a moment in which you have to act and we believe that from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston and obviously before that there is an urgent need to ask why this keeps happening and to definitely have the kind of conversation and action to move the nation forward,” said Ron Daniels, the president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) and the convener of the National African-American Reparations Commission (NAARC), a group of Black leaders that represent educational, health, advocacy and faith-based organizations.
Daniels said that the uprising in Baltimore triggered by the murder of Freddie Gray exposed the deep-seated isolation and racial disparities that exist in that city and other urban centers across the nation that clearly illustrate the ongoing impact of white supremacy in this country.
“It’s not always people that are overtly ho-stile, sometimes people don’t see and understand the plight of Black people,” said Daniels.
White people look at things one way and Black people look at things a different way, said Daniels, adding that some white people simply don’t understand the implicit bias that President Barack Obama addressed during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel A.M.E Church who was one of nine people shot to death during a Bible study at the church on June 17.
“There needs to be an aggressive approach by this country which does not deny or hide, but confronts and addresses the issues [affecting Black people] and provides the appropriate level of action and initiative for reparatory justice for people of African descent,” said Rev. JoAnn Watson, a NAARC Commissioner and a former member of the Detroit City Council.
Watson said that the approach addressed in the request for a reparatory justice commission is long overdue, because many initiatives that have preceded the NAARC proposal have gone unfulfilled and unfinished.
Watson noted that Special Field Order Number 15, issued by General William T. Sherman in January of 1865 in an effort to secure 400,000 acres for freed slaves, was later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. The Freedman’s Bureau, formerly called the U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, was created by Congress at the end of the Civil War to assist former slaves in the South in the aftermath of the war, was unceremoniously defunded and shuttered about seven years after the agency opened.
The commission seeks to address racial disparities in housing, public education and the criminal justice system through specific policy reforms and may also recommend additional funding for Black colleges and universities and a constitutional amendment to cement voters’ rights.
In a letter to President Obama, the group called white supremacy and racism deadly diseases infecting the social, economic and political fabric of the nation.
“As you have related Mr. President, despite progress since the era of enslavement, Jim Crow and de facto discrimination/segregation, the ‘badges and indicia’ of the longstanding exploitation and oppression of people of African descent are reflected in the devastating disparities in health, education, housing, employment, economic development, wealth and incarceration rates which harm large numbers of Black people each and every day in this land of enormous prosperity,” the letter said.
It continued, “Despite these realities, polls and studies indicate that a substantial number of white Americans fail to see or are in denial about the stubborn persistence of racism and its effects on Black people. In fact, there is a tendency to blame Blacks for the conditions our people find themselves in and/or to express ‘racial resentment’ of the perceived progress of Blacks, as being a function of encroaching on the success of whites. Even among well meaning, sympathetic whites, there is often a failure to recognize how implicit bias colors the countless decisions which constrain or kill the aspirations of Black people in this nation.”
Instead of becoming more optimistic about race relations after the election of the nation’s first Black president, a joint survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (PRC) and USA Today in August 2014 found that Black respondents have grown more pessimistic.
“Majorities of Blacks (64 percent) and whites (75 percent) say the two races get along at least pretty well, though fewer blacks express this view than did so four years ago (76 percent),” a report on the survey said. “In 2007, 69 percent of Blacks said Blacks and whites get along very well or pretty well.”
In the same poll Black and white respondents expressed contrasting views on the performance of local police departments.
“Fully 70 percent of Blacks say police departments around the country do a poor job in holding officers accountable for misconduct; an identical percentage says they do a poor job of treating racial and ethnic groups equally.],” the survey respondents reported. “And 57 percent of African Americans think police departments do a poor job of using the right amount of force.”
Just 27 percent of whites said that police departments do a poor job holding officers accountable and 23 percent of whites said that police forces do a poor job using the right amount of force.
Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of white respondents said that police officers do a good or fair job treating racial and ethnic groups equally, but less than 30 percent of Blacks felt the same way.
In a statement, Kamm Howard, a leader of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA) and a member of the NAARC, said that an executive order creating the commission will help to re-frame the national discussion of reparatory justice around the international standards of full repair.
“This includes halting many discriminatory practices, efforts aimed at restoring and making whole our peoplehood, a variety of compensatory polices, dignity enhancing projects, programs and policies as well as various modalities that initiate healing from post-traumatic slavery syndrome and its many manifestations,” said Howard.
Watson, the former Detroit City Council member, dismissed the idea that the sharp racial discrimination and animosity towards Blacks that sparked the Civil Rights Movement is a thing of the past.
“Black church burnings are occurring presently,” Watson said. “The Charleston, S.C. massacre was in our present. That was not a lone gunman.”
According to Watson, America has blood on its hands as a result of a subculture that has been allowed to ferment in the hands of the same people that continued to enslave Blacks for two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Instead of only turning to conversations about race during tragedies or sensational, ratings-driven stories in mainstream media, Daniels suggested that the commission could be the impetus for sustained, meaningful and fact-based conversations about race led by scholars, activists and community stakeholders in cities across the U.S. Now that the nation’s attention is focused on race relations, Daniels said that it’s time to systematically and seriously address “state of emergency in America’s dark ghettos.”
Watson agreed, adding that the commission should be established during President Obama’s final years in office.