Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Blacks vs. Latinos: Can we all just get along?

I have been contemplating this blog for weeks as I observe the rising tensions between blacks and latinos in our community. And now, in the wake of the on-going fighting between blacks and latinos in the Los Angeles County Jail System, I have to begin comment...

For those of you who don't know, there has been major violence at the Peter Pitchess Detention Center in North Los Angeles County for weeks, perhaps months.. Blacks, who are heavily outnumbered, have been fighting with latinos who, by some accounts, have been given the green light to kill and hurt blacks by the Mexican Mafia. There have been deaths and serious injury and the entire Los Angeles Jail system is on lockdown. We don't hear about the state penetentiaries that are on lockdown because of black vs. brown fighting.

There's an article in today's Washington Post (Calif. Jail Riots Display Divide) which provides an interesting overview of the problem. It's center thesis is that the Jail riots point to a larger problem on the streets of Los Angeles. That is, Latinos and Blacks are engaged in a fight for survival in LA. Blacks are being shut out of jobs, violence between the two groups rocked 12 schools last year. And in the area of hate crimes, which was dominated by whites vs. blacks in years past, now are overwhelmingly latino vs. black.

On May 5, (Cinco De Mayo - a Mexican Holiday that celebrates the Mexican Army's triumph over French Soldiers in the 1800's), black students have stayed home the last couple of years, because Latino graffitti at the schools have warned them to do so... The graffitti tells them that if they come to school they will get shot. Last year, a widely spread e-mail warned the city of such violence and while the e-mail was determined to be a hoax, unofficial estimates say that more than 70% of all black students in the LA Unified School District stayed home on that day. The e-mail was supposedly generated from an official at the LA County Probation office who called themselves warning the community based on what they heard from thier "clients". Last year, there were reports of graffitti that point to latino only bathrooms and black only bathrooms. To violate this street edict will get the student hurt. It is a scary time for the community.

I remember the aforementioned e-mail well, because I was invited to participate in a student forum that was supposed to get high school and middle school students from the "inner city" interested in going to college and pursuing a career. The forum was held on the campus of Cal State Pomona and included around 500 kids. The past week had been tumultuous at several high schools, the most serious issues taking place at Jefferson High School where rioting between blacks and browns caused the school to be shut down. I went to the parent-teacher assembly hastily put together by school officials, including the LAUSD Administration, local politicians and police officials. I heard the rhetoric for peace from the stage. I heard the appeals from so-called community activists. I saw the parents, black parents outnumbered ten-fold by latino parents, taking it all in.. I witnessed the looks of hatred given by latinos to blacks and returned by blacks - I'm talking the parents here... I heard the student body president, who was latino, aggressively proclaim "We run this school!!" Now, I don't know if she was saying that from a universal student aspect including all the students, but it sounded like she was proclaiming latino supremacy.

I heard the black students not only express thier fear, but thier wish for solidarity with latino students, but I noticed that they had no political clout. This school is on the track system.. and each track has its own student government. As each track stepped to the mic to represent, I noticed they were all latino, all saying the same thing how they ran the school - some adding that they would solve thier own problems..The black students had no voice... I also noticed that, according to the black students, the LAUSD School Police had a lot to review in thier handling of the violence. Seems they got a little over zealous in dealing with the black students, traumatizing some of the students as they tearfuly described how the school police responded....

Later that week, I was at the aforementioned student forum. I took the opportunity to discuss the black vs. brown issue with the kids. There, I learned about the threat to black students on Cinco De Mayo. The latino students told me that there were a few bad apples causing all the problems and that we were "all the same" but racism and prejudice has overtaken the campus and the black students would probably get hurt if they came to school on May 5. Some of the latino girls told me how racism is prevalent in thier homes especially from relatives from south of the border. They had to sneak if they wanted to date black boys. At the dinner table, their parents and relatives would dinigrate thier black neighbors. I mean, I really got a sense of just how bad the issue is...

I've heard, from my time on the radio, how blacks exhibit attitudes toward the latinos, that rivals what any klan or white supremacy rhetoric can dish out. I mean, how we look at immigration policies. How we talk about the "takeover" of America by immigrants. How we need to police the borders.. If you hear this talk and then compare it with white supremacy websites and conservative talk shows.. the rhetoric is the same!! It's a very interesting paradigm...

Now, I live in the community. I actually have no problem with the latino. I'm trying to live my life loving all of humankind.. That is my edict as a man of God, but I gotta admit, I see the hatred exhibited by latinos towards us. On the street, in the grocery store, being served by latinos, nowadays in a store or restaurant, you can feel the disdain they have for us... I'm a native Californian(this is rare) and cannot for the life of me figure out what went wrong. I mean back in the day in San Diego, a border town, we were together, blacks and browns. We marched with them as they addressed greivances in the fields and they marched with us as we addressed greivances of discrimination. Even those of you from LA can remember the latino walking side by side with us in battle after battle. Even Mayor Villaraigosa comes from that coalition of black and brown together - in fact, it is on that platform that he won his election. So what happened? How do we fix it? Is it fixable?

Just to give you a glimpse of the numbers, according to radio audience measurements, Los Angeles is 43% latino and 9% black. Statewide, almost a third of California's 36 million people are Hispanic while blacks have fallen to 6.7 percent of the state's population.

Last week, a parade of activists, clergy and journalists were allowed to visit Peter Pitchess Detention Center. They were allowed to speak with inmates, both black and latino. This was a good move, I feel on the part of the LA Sherriff Department, but I understand that most of the visitors seeking solutions were black. I wonder where the latino clergy and activists were? This is the problem sometimes... I don't see the latinos trying to come to the table of peace. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just do not see it... I don't see them trying to move toward cooperation and peace. I see black folk doing what they can to try and deal with the issue, but I don't see brown people. hmmm

One of my colleagues went on such a visit and she tells me that the latinos who are from here blame the latinos who are south of the border. This makes sense to me because I feel most of the attitudes coming from those latinos who are newly immigrated... Such latinos are called "southsiders"... They are highly organized and some are hardened by war in thier native countries. They are vicious and take advantage of the small numbers of blacks plus the fact that blacks can't seem to form a united front against the attacks (hmmm).. And you know what? They can't stand the northern latinos!! But still they find a way to unite...

My brother-in-law has experience with the California correctional system and he tells me that when you get off the bus, there are some facilities where you know it's run by latinos and you better fight or die. And then there's others, while declining, that are run by blacks. He also tells me that yes, blacks are majorly outnumbered inside the jail system. Sometimes when you get on the bus to go to court or to the various jails throughout the county, there's 40 latinos to 10 blacks. It's pressure.

But how does what happens behind bars dictate to us free, law abiding folk the way we should live, or regard other people??

My church had law enforcement Sunday this past weekend. It is an annual event where all the members who are law enforcement, military, and fire get to wear thier uniforms and remember the fallen. They ask for our prayers and support as they go about thier dangerous jobs. For me, it's an interesting day,because here you are with a bunch of cops - WITH GUNS - in the house of the Lord.. It's a unsettling picture for me... But the LAPD Chief was there, the LAFD Chief was there, the head of probation was there and tons of cops, sherriffs, wardens and superintendents from various correctional institutions around the state all came to praise the Lord with us that day. There was a lot of ceremony around the loss of officers in the line of duty as it should have been, but not one word was uttered about the black vs brown problems inside the jails. After church I introduced myself to the Asst. Warden of Corcoran (Corocoran is one of California's most notorious prisons), I asked him about the black vs. brown issue. He told me that it is way worse than what we are reading in the papers. He told me that Corocoran has been on lockdown for a year and a half while they try to deal with the issues. He is at a loss... it's a culture he said that browns can kill and hate blacks. A culture.... wow.

He has a lot to say about it and soon I will get his conversation on tape as soon as I can arrange it...

We live in the same neighborhoods, we even like the same music, clothing styles why can't we get along?

In the work place, we are seeing more lawsuits and grievances filed against latinos by blacks who say they have been discriminated against or passed over for promotions and jobs in favor of latinos.. This, in an area that used to be dominated by lawsuits of blacks vs. whites.

We're hearing the stress of the everyday citizen who is tired of going to work and dealing with prejudice and discrimination but then when they come home, in thier own community, it's more of the same from thier latino neighbors.

The situation is critical. What should we do? What is the solution?

Can't we all just get along?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Activists - who asked them to lead?

In the course of my work, I have to deal with a peculiar brand of people. That is the community activist. Now, their work is important - seeking and vanguarding equality and social justice for people in the inner city. When there's a shooting by LAPD or they administer the beatdown on black and brown people (a regular occurence in LA) these guys are on the case, demonstrating and adding pressure on the political folk to do something... When there's gang violence, they have been at the forefront of holding vigils and seeking to promote peace among the gang sets...When a case or incident breaks they are on the spot making noise... But as I have observed these folk, I have come to a few conclusions. And I have some questions. The most glaring is Who asked them to speak for us? Who made them the leaders? Why are they the leaders? Why does the mainstream media continue to give them play?

I was one of the targets in an action last year, where the activists did not agree with some moves the station made. They swiftly posted up in the lobby of the station, demanding to see the station's public file. Now this is the public's right, but it was right at a time when the station was seeking to renew its license. Accompanying this action, the "street committee" was generating rumours that the station was not black owned and we were perpetrating a myth on the black people of Los Angeles. Further the activists at the apex of this activitiy put out thousands of leaflets demanding my resignation and our program director's. The leaflet said we were black nazi's and the spirit of hitler lives in us. It was a mess... The activists accusations were totally false and misguided. I was in the background at a couple of events where I heard the activists preaching about the station's plan to sell-out the black community and that myself and others in the station were at the center of this diabolical plot. wow...

Then Hurricane Katrina hit.. we had hundreds of volunteers, mobilized black organizations from here to Mississippi, ran several tractor trailer trucks to the south.. this was a massive operation centered on self determination. But where were these activists?

During the turmoil surrounding the execution of Stanley "Tookie" WIlliams, one of the talk radio stations in town known for its extreme right wing rhetoric, ran a promotion called "Kill Tookie Hour" where they would broadcast calls from the public calling for the execution of Williams. It was a crude and sometimes racist presentation. The activists went into action calling for a press conference to denounce the station and the jocks perpetrating this promotion. But the conference was held in the safety of the 'hood, not near the offending station, right here in Leimert Park. And even worse, the jocks from the Kill Tookie Hour attended!! Like, "what you guys gonna do??"... My observance here is that the activist will storm the building of the black owned station who's trying to do good in the 'hood, but will throw rocks long distance at the white station whose rhetoric is truly showing you that they ain't checkin' for us... COWARDS!

When there is a hi-profile shooting in the community, how do these activists become "representatives of the family"? I can't tell you how many times, I get a call from the grieving mother of a youngster gunned down in senseless violence who says to me that "he does not represent us".... It is here I'll share the story fo young Byron Lee. He was 14 years old. Last year he was shot dead 19 times by gang members. He was an innocent child riding his bike on a Saturday afternoon. A car drove up and emptied 19 slugs into his young body. His death became a city wide symbol of a community that has had enough of the violence. Mucho news coverage. Every city official, county official, the state government, civl rights organizations came forward to express thier condolences and outrage against the violence in our city. I was the first in the city to interview the mother. On the following Monday morning, during my early morning talk show, my gang activist friends brought the mother to the show. We had her describe the situation. Stevie Wonder called in and offered to pay for the funeral. I said he didn't need to do that, because the community was outraged and they would come forward to handle the expenses. We raised $15,000 for the boy's funeral. I was on the news frequently and was just as frequently trying to turn away interview requests. During this time, I was instantly one of the boy's family members running to and fro making funeral arrangements. No activists. Me. But then I heard activists claiming to be "representatives of the family". One activist even took delivery on a huge fruit basket from a concerned citizen. He made sure it got to the family alright.. AFTER he ate all the fruit in the basket!!

Another activist came to me with the mom of a 12 year old that had been killed by a hit and run driver just before last Christmas. I looked the mother in the eye and tried to extend comfort and concern for her loss and tried to determine what I could do for her... The activist kept telling me that "I'm a community activist and if I could just get on the radio..." I told him I was aware of who he said he was, but I wanted to talk to the mother.. it was about her, not him... At the end of the meeting I asked the activist to bring me a description of the accident, and the official LAPD offer for reward. I would get that into our news department and on the website. To this day, he has not given me the stuff. His campaign as "repesentative of the family" was all predicated on him getting publicity for himself.

If I had time, I'd tell you about the activist who got into a fist fight with the nation of Islam, over which media would cover whom... or the activists who was physically removed from a townhall meeting dealing with gang violence because they were extremely disruptive....if you're trying to be a part of the solution, we disrupt a community meeting... because you could not lead the discussion? who are you???

This is not at all saying that everyone claiming to be an activist in Los Angeles is a less than honorable solider. But it has to be pointed out that there are a LOT of activists who are in the media on a regular basis. Who the mainstream media trusts and seeks out for comment when there is a major crisis in the city and said comment is the gauge for how the community feels on the issue. Conversely there are a few activists who are totally legitmate and strong in thier fight for equality and social justice.

We have major issues in Los Angeles. We need solid leadership. We need to do away with the frauds. We need to unify and center our movements. I mean why is the LA SCLC mad at the people who want ot open a branch office in Compton? Why is it that the church community cannot seem to unify and combat the problems of gang violence, drugs, HIV/AIDS and other issues in the 'hood. They are too busy engaging in spiritual gang banging.

Who are our leaders? and who asked them to lead?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Man with a Gun

Ok, is it me or do you feel that Dick Cheney, the sitting Vice President of these United States should be charged for shooting his friend? I mean, I am shocked and appalled that they rushed to declare the shooting an accident. Then they indicated that the victim was getting better, but then his condition worsened. That felt to me like they were trying to cover the seriousness of the situation. Make it like it was a minor accident...but the guy was in intensive care!!! That's serious! omigod!! The spin doctors have been busy!! The incident has made plenty of fodder for comedians, but seriously, this is not a laughing matter.

If you or I were in the same situation, we would be under extreme police scrutiny. Why isn't Cheney? If it were you or I, the news reports would say an investigation is underway to determine if the shooting was an accident. They declared it an accident almost immediately. We find that alcohol was involved. Although he says he only had one beer during lunch.. we don't know that and who's going to go against him? He should not have had any beers while dealing with firearms. And what about firearm safety. Here is one of the biggest proponents of the right to bear arms, and he goes out and has an irresponsible "accident" after drinking beer...

Cheney was interviewed by Fox last night and I have to repeat my assessment of him... This is a cold dude... heartless... I mean he is showing no remorse for the accident. Even though he takes full responsibility(that's the spin), he's not showing remorse. His friend is close to death and he's acting so high and mighty like he is above the law... His biggest complaint was that the White House Press Corps was angry because they did not get the story, the Corpus Christi Times got it first... SO WHAT!!! You're friend is dying and you're worried about some press people!! Or maybe you are angry, because the story broke before you had a chance to spin it.... No chance to meet with your cronies and concoct another fabrication for the gullible public. Of course, he is part of that elite class that so far, is above the law...

He got a warning from regulatory authorities. What a CROCK!!! Even if it is an accident, if that were me or you, we would have gotten a major fine and been under investigation for the filing of criminal charges. Plus he did not have the proper hunting license.. that's a major infraction right there!! I wonder if his weapon was properly registered. A Warning!! Charge that rich fool!! He should be charged with some sort of negligence....unsafe operation of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol... In these violent times, he must face charges... Just like the gangbanger on the streets of Los Angeles would face weapons charges, he should face the same...

And, what if his friend (heaven forbid) dies from his wounds or is permanently maimed or otherwise disabled as a result of this accident... What then.. Are you going to slap him on the wrist and let him go? What kind of example does that set for the country.... ? What happens when the same situation happens in the inner city? Men playing with guns, one accidently shoots another.. hmmmmm.. attempted murder? Negligent assault? Assault with a deadly weapon? Weapons charges?

What it proves to me that once again, the laws of this country are selectively applied.... Dick Cheney should be under more duress than a slap on the wrist. His actions during his hunting trip were irresponsible, a threat to public safety and could have gotten someone killed.

We are a country of laws... Let Justice speak!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Grammy Week: Let the Fun begin!!

It's Grammy Week and I'm in the mix! Whoo-Hoo! This is music's biggest night-our biggest week - our Academy Awards. It brings music's top stars from all over the globe, from every genre, from rap to classical, they are here in LA this week to participate in the honors and information as presented by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Although I am involved in the R&B/Urban/Gospel side of the industry, I always love the professional gatherings where folk from all genres come together... it's kind of cool when you are sitting with someone who deals in rock, or classical or latin...I am what''s known as a power networker, my style is unassuming and gentle. I can talk to anyone, no matter what sphere they orbit in. I specialize in building relationships. And it is in that mode that I operate as I work a room at a multicultural function.

I went to the Grammy Salute to Gospel luncheon on Saturday...It was quite elegant. Not as cool as last year, but at least gospel is getting it's due from the Recording Academy. They honored Shirley Ceasar, Billy Ray Hearn (founder of the EMI Christian Music Group) BIll Hearn, (President of EMI Christian) and Richard Smallwood. It was great. There were performances by Kim Burrell, Andre' Crouch, Edwin Hawkins, Walter Hawkins, Jonathan Butler, and Kirk Whalum.. What a great event...

The Grammy experience is not all about glitz and glamour, they are really doing some great things in the community. For instance, today, they have the Grammy Career Day where they are gathering more than 1,300 high school students at USC's Thornton School of Music for a day of dialogue and experimentation. Top music industry pros will be on hand to discuss the realities of the music business and available careers in the industry. I am so glad they do this, because you meet so many young people who want to make it in this business but all they want to do is be in front of the mic, on camera, rappin', singing, just performing when there's a whole plethora of jobs - good jobs, behind the scenes...The event will feature panel discussions and will be followed by a variety of workshops addressing various fields in the music industry. This is valuable stuff for the young folk, I mean look at this roster of participants : Current Grammy nominees Amerie, Earth Wind & Fire, Fantasia, Sean Garrett, John Legend, Leff Lorber, Keb Mo', Omarion, Kanye West, Michelle Williams, Multiple Grammy Award winning Producer/songwriter David Foster, Dave Koz and more. Moderators of the panels include Randy Jackson from American Idol, Multiple Platinum super-producer Jimmy Jam and E! Entertainment's Dave Adelson. Not only these performers and producers, but HEAVYWEIGHT executives will participate also: My friend Jeannie Weems from ASCAP, My other friend Gail Mitchell Editor of R&B/HipHop Billboard Magazine, Universal Music Publishing Creative Affair EVP Tom Sturges and a host of other top notch execs.

Another Grammy Experience is the MusicCares Person of the Year banquet. This year, an exceptional group of music legends will honor James Taylor as the 2006 MusicCares Person of the Year. The Person of the Year honor is presented to a music legend whose extraordinary musical achievements and philanthropic commitment to arts, environmental and humanitarian causes are extremely notable and visible. The evening is one of Grammy Week's most prestigious and will feature a concert by India.Aire, Jackson browne, David Crosby, The Dixie Chicks, Dr. John, Carole King, and a host of music luminaries.

This Wednesday is the 48th Grammy Awards. It will be televised on CBS and features a host of outstanding performances. I just learned that they are paying special tribute to Sly and the Family Stone... (one of my FAVORITE groups when growing up - Everyday People, Higher, Hot Fun in the Summertime, If you want me to stay...). Your man Jay-Z will be joining Linkin Park on stage - now THAT should be interesting...

On Grammy day, I'll be jostling for postiion on the red carpet to get as many interviews as possible for the radio and my soon to be released website and my internet radio presence... Maybe I'll post some here...

After the stars arrive, I'll be in the media room, providing behind the scenes reporting to the station, while getting some of the hottest interviews around.... My favorites? John Legend and Stevie Wonder... For a review of the R&B Category, check out the nominees here.... also you can go to www.grammy.com for the latest Grammy info....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Coretta: Living the Legacy

This week, we learned of the passing of Coretta Scott King, the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a poignant time as we observe Black History Month (boy, have I got a blog for you on the subject of our "month")... We are witnessing the generation of Freedom Fighters pass on, leaving the legacy to us to carry on, nurture and build upon.

I am a child of the Movement - too young to march, but old enough to hear the conversations, the meetings in church, old enough to know the words to "We Shall Overcome" and understand what it meant. Old enough to understand when Grandma told me that things would be better for me and my generation...Old enough to understand when my Dad took us to Texas, his home state and showed us the Colored Only/Whites Only way of life.....and I hear him even now telling me to "get an education, stand up straight... look them in the eye and walk in the same door as them... don't cow tow to them"...In Dad's town, they had to move off the sidewalk when white folk approached...

I remember so vividly, the photo of Mrs. King in her black mourning clothing at the funeral of Dr. King... It was on the cover of Ebony.... I used to study her face and wonder what was going through her mind... She looked so regal, even at a time when we were saying "if they would kill King, then what will they do to us?"

I lost my Dad last year... and I find myself really worrying if I am the man he raised me to be... Am I living up to his legacy? Am I the man he prepared me to be in this world? Oh yes, I've had my ups and downs in this life... some instances where I know he wasn't so proud.. but am I really living up to his name? Someone told me that this is part of a grieving process. That's funny. I don't feel like I'm grieving.. Grieving is when I break down and cry at the oddest times, thinking about him (yes, I still have those moments). At any rate, I just wonder what kind of legacy am I living as he prepared me for this life...

So too, I now wonder what kind of legacy are we living for Mother King... Mother Parks... Mother Hamer.... Mrs. King said nonviolence.. ok, we got non violence against the system, but we are brutally violent against one another... I even heard a story the other day about the escalation of crime in a certain part of Houston, Texas. It is a section that is filled with evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. These are black folk, mostly, but they are becoming victim to brutal attacks from black folk from Houston. Schoolyard riots are breaking out- Houston vs. New Orleans, Graffitti around the projects cursing New Orleans... People upset at the evacuees, cursing thier mention.. In Los Angeles, gang warfare is a regular report on television and when you walk through the neighborhood, black folk are more angry at one another than at the system.

The music and culture of African Americans is tainted with debaucherous songs, clothing styles and actions
of some that are lewd, rude and crude... I mean it's interesting to note that gangstas can be the top pop stars in America....
As a child of the movement, I see that these are our children... What have we done? What have we allowed to happen?

What kind of legacy are we living for Mother King.... Mother Parks... Mother Hamer... They are gone now, so it's up to us to make a difference.... Are we? Or has the Dream passed on with our elders?