A billion-dollar industry, a racist legacy: being black and growing pot in America

Three years ago, Jesce Horton, a former engineer in his early 30s, quit his corporate job to set up his own small, family-owned cannabis cultivation business in Portland, Oregon.

Horton is part of a nascent industry thatnetted $6.7bn last year and is projected toreach $50bn by 2026. And as one of the few black business owners in an industry whose legality varies by location, he stands out.

“I guess how I dress is hip-hop hipster. I have my Jordans, but I also have my beard and a Portland hat,” Horton says with a chuckle when asked to describe himself.

Horton’s parents were at first lukewarm about his plan to sell a substance associated with decades of systematic imprisonment that have devastated communities of color. But the young entrepreneur sees the partial legalization of cannabis as an opportunity not just for business, but to acknowledge past wrongdoing and seek economic justice.

There is an obvious chasm between the number of people of color who have been jailed for simple possession during the “war on drugs” and the number of white men who are starting to make millions in profit from the industry. Formal statistics do not exist, but first-hand accounts and reports confirm that cannabis entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly white. Last year, aninvestigation by Buzzfeed estimated that less than 1% of cannabis dispensary owners across the country were black.

Solutions are now being explored through reparations – mainly in the form of measures addressing this imbalance.

For the first time, policy and local pieces of concrete legislation in cities including Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon, encourage participation in the regulated marijuana industry by communities of color, or reinvestment into these communities.

These quiet, small steps towards justice are nothing short of revolutionary.

A white man’s industry: $710,000 for a license

 Jesce Horton: ‘This business has been family from the start’. Photograph: Jesce Horton

Horton is proud to live in Portland, he says, for it is the first US city to vote to dedicate a portion of its recreational cannabis tax revenue towards investment into “communities disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition”.

Beyond investing in businesses and training, the fund will also partly finance the expungement of cannabis convictions.

Such policies, reparative in ambition and nature, recognize that the current playing field was historically set up to be inequitable. Cannabis culture may be open in ethos, but so far, with few exceptions, the industry has proven itself glacier white.

Horton and fellow advocates offer three reasons for this.

One, most states have barred anyone with a criminal record from entering the industry. The US is home to an estimated 70 million Americans with criminal records, and adisproportionate number of those are men of color (according to a Pew Research Centerstudy in 2013, black men were six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men).

Two, by varying degrees, depending on the state, the economic barriers to entering the industry (application fees, license fees and startup fees) are extortionately high.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, where medical cannabis was legalized last year, only a small handful of licenses were set to be given out. Wannabe growers were required to pay a $10,000 non-refundable application fee, together with a $200,000 deposit. They also had to provie proof of $2m in funding, with at least $500,000 in the bank.

(Oregon, where Horton lives, is an outlier. Barriers of entry there are low, with number of licenses granted limitless, application fees at $250, and yearly licenses never exceeding the $6,000 mark.)

Banks, still jumpy from federal prohibition, are not lending. Application numbers are also vastly restrictive and rely on opaque selection processes, in which connections are important. This means applicants with personal wealth or access to networks of wealth are at a high advantage. In a still segregated America, the median American white family is 13 times wealthier than the median black family, and 10 times wealthier than the median Hispanic family.

Three, even where there are funds to be sourced, communities of color are often loath to take a chance on openly doing business with a drug they have seen too many of their kin targeted, criminalized and locked up over.

“Unless measures are taken to recognize and reconcile the harm done by the war on drugs, unless we reach out to communities of color to include them, communities will see legal cannabis as a slap in the face and won’t use it,” Horton says.

To change that, Horton spends a large portion of his time trying to uplift current and would-be cannabis entrepreneurs of color. He does this through a Minority Cannabis Business Association, which he heads, and by advocating for laws that get to the roots of why communities of color have been excluded from the industry.

A place for every color, race and creed

Legacy weighs heavily on Horton, and not simply because he just welcomed his first child.

Horton’s father was sent to prison as a young man on cannabis-related charges. After serving his sentence, he found work as a janitor at a large corporation, where he slowly worked his way up through the ranks, retiring as a vice-president.

Horton was himself also arrested and charged for minor cannabis possession three times, but he says he lucked out. “I was able to get out of the criminal justice system with little,” he says. Friends were less fortunate, and some of them are still behind bars because of the drug.

Eventually, seeing his seriousness, Horton’s parents came around to his business plan. Part of the seed money came from his parents and their fellow retired friends.

 Horton (right), his employee Linda, and his cousin, who also works for the business. Photograph: Jesce Horton

Horton’s medical cannabis company originally served eight patients, selling off the rest of his modest crop to dispensaries. He is now preparing to launch a much larger all-purpose facility, which will grow, sell and provide space to safely consume weed on a three-acre piece of property, formerly an auto wrecking ground.

“It’s been family from the start. My mom and my dad even came and helped with the first harvest.”

For years, Horton’s two full-time employees were his cousin, who moved from North Carolina to work with him, and a woman named Linda. She serendipitously landed with the company after she lost her job. She’s in her 60s, and the only white person of the trio. She has recently been diagnosed with cancer, so Horton has set to work trying to develop a cannabis strand to help her deal with the illness.

“We are a bit like the Brady bunch,” Horton offers. “It’s the best of cannabis culture. The idea that there is a place for every single color, race, creed. At this point, I don’t have a lot, but I am passionate. I feel like I have a short window of opportunity to put my son in a better position, build a better position for my family and my community – for people of color.”

Horton doesn’t want to be the exception to the rule, either. It doesn’t seem right, and it doesn’t seem fair, especially since the depiction of cannabis and the depiction of race have been intertwined from the get-go.

For instance, the original federal document outlawing cannabis in 1937 employed “marihuana”, a Hispanic slang term, that until then was not the most common term for the plant. Accounts have suggested it was chosen to make the drug instantly associable with Mexicans, or non-white people.

While studies have shown that cannabis consumption is similar in terms of percentage across races, black and brown people are far more likely to be arrested for both distribution and simple possession of the drug in the US – about four times on average nationwide.

After successive presidents embraced a “war on drugs” starting in the 1970s, portraying drugs, including cannabis, as the root of evil, the prison population ballooned at an astonishing rate. Today, with 2.3 million people locked up domestically, the US is the world’s largest incarcerator.

In an in-depth analysis on the subject, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that over the course of the first decade of the 21st century, even as cannabis legalization was beginning to take hold, cannabis arrests increased, rather than the opposite. The study recorded 8m marijuana arrests across the country, 88% of which were for possession alone.

‘This is a moment in time that we may never see again’

Oakland, California, has offered perhaps the most groundbreaking laws to date addressing the issue.

A recent city-commissioned report spoke in stark and harsh terms of, on one hand, the existence of mostly white medical cannabis businesses, and on the other a cracking down on black and brown community members for cannabis possession and distribution.

Oakland is about one-third black, one-third white and one-third Hispanic, but cannabis-related arrests in Oakland in 2015 involved black people in 77% of cases, and people of color in about 95% of cases.

White people represented 4% of cases.

At the end of March this year, following the release of the report, Oakland’s city councilvoted on a set of regulatory measures for medical cannabis dispensaries in what is referred to as an equity permit program.

Its scope, ambition and framing are unprecedented.

 Christina, one of Jesce Horton’s former employees, at work. Photograph: Jesce Horton

Under new rules, at least half of new cannabis business permit holders, issued by the city at a maximum rate of eight a year, will have to go to “equity applicants”. Applicants must earn less than 80% of the city’s median income; and they must either have been residents of police beats disproportionately targeted by law enforcement in recent decades, or they must have been sent to prison on cannabis charges within the last 20 years.

“Non-equity” applicants not fitting this criteria will be given priority for the other half of permits available if they incorporate helping equity applicants with free rent or real estate.

“Honestly, I think this is a moment in time that we may never see again,” Oakland’s vice-mayor, Annie Campbell Washington, said during a council meeting. “We have the ability to right the wrongs of structural racism so directly and try to level the playing field and benefit the actual group of people who were harmed.”

To the north, Portland, Oregon, is the first city to direct part of its cannabis revenue taxes towards reinvestment into communities of color. Los Angeles and San Francisco are seeking to implement similar policies.

Massachusetts, which voted to make cannabis legal for recreational use at the end of last year, is the first state to include a section of the law which requires the participation of communities criminalized and economically crippled during the “war on drugs”.

While details are still being smoothed out, the text of the law is extraordinary in that it creates a link between a formerly criminalized population and the new industry. There is no formal apology or admission of wrongdoing, but it is not a stretch to see the wording as a recognition of people being owed something, and between the lines, the need for repair.

Massachusetts is also the first state not to bar former convicted felons from operating in and around the industry.

Meanwhile, California’s new adult use law, which also passed last November, requires a portion of the taxes collected from cannabis businesses to be re-invested into “communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies.”

Much of this may seem utopian, or at least unrealistic. Steps for reparations, which, in the American context, most often refer to a call to pay damage to the descendants of slaves violently brought from Africa for the purpose of multi-generational labor exploitation, have repeatedly gone nowhere.

But these measures could mark the first time an explicit form of reparations takes hold in this country.

Jeff Sessions: ‘Good people don’t smoke marijuana’

Of course, at a federal level, cannabis remains illegal. In fact, it is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means the federal government sees the drug as having no medical benefit whatsoever. This marks it as more dangerous than Schedule II drugs, which include opioids, meth, and cocaine, among others.

Starting in 2013, under Barack Obama, a “Cole memo” unofficially agreed to exercise discretion and turn a blind eye on in-state legal cannabis activities, so long as those states enforced “strong and effective” regulation.

But Donald Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has called for renewed efforts in combatting drugs, which he has described uniformly as “bad”. In 1996, the Alabama Lawyer reported that Sessions, then Alabama attorney general, had introduced a package of crime bills for the state to “fix a broken system”. One of those bills sought to impose the death penalty as a mandatory minimum sentence for second time offenders of the state’s anti-drug trafficking law. Trafficking charges included non-violent cannabis charges.

The crime bill did not pass, and at his federal confirmation hearings this January, Sessionssaid that such measures were “not his view today”. But as recently as last year, Sessions was emphatic that he believed cannabis was “dangerous” and “damaging”, repeatedly calling during a Senate hearing on the matter for federal law to be enforced.

“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” hesaid.

This could prove worrying for cannabis entrepreneurs but even more so for communities of color, for whom the business of cannabis has never ceased to be equated with the risk of imprisonment.

Ezekiel Edwards, the director of the Criminal Law Reform Project at the ACLU, warns Sessions is “a drug warrior of the first order”. He says Sessions would not be reviving a war on drugs, only re-escalating one that never went away.

“Even after marijuana legalization, we continue to fight a drug war in communities of color. Arrests are still being done, including in states where legalization has taken place, and still disproportionately in communities of color. That war is not over,” Edwards says.

Lynne Lyman, the state director for the California branch of the Drug Policy Alliance, who helped successfully get recreational cannabis legalized duringNovember’s elections, says that a large part of her work is what she calls “anti-stigma work”.

Anti-stigma work involves making people who use and sell drugs be seen as people first.

For cannabis entrepreneurs, this means no longer treating black sellers of cannabis as dangerous “dealers” to be incarcerated, and white sellers of cannabis as exciting, legitimate trailblazers, with the laudable American flair for risk.

Confronting that stigma takes you to the core of it all.

Source: A billion-dollar industry, a racist legacy: being black and growing pot in America

Chicago Man Founds Project to Help Fathers Be the Best Dad They Can Be 


Seven years ago, Sheldon Smith learned he would be a father at the age of 20. After experiencing a childhood with a father who was in and out of his life, Smith decided it was time to break the cycle that continues in his community.

According to U.S. Census Data, nearly half of African-American children grow up without a father in the household. Smith wanted to give young fathers a way to prepare for the road ahead.

Thus, the Chicago native founded the Dovetail Project, a program that works to prepare young dads to be the best they can be, while also improving their parenting skills.

The organization works to increase the amount of quality time fathers spend with their children, provide skills needed to secure employment opportunities and ensure that these men are either enrolled in school or working toward a GED.

“The thing I love most about the Dovetail Project is that it’s not a mandatory program,” Smith told CNN. “These young men are really volunteering to get the help and support they need.”

The 12-week program was developed through research by Smith and even includes a lesson on Felony Street Law to help the men avoid incarceration. Since 2010, close to 300 men have completed the program.

Recent graduate Corey Lennore called The Dovetail Project a godsend. Not only does the organization provide life skills for the men, but it also gives them a sense of encouragement and reassurance.

“We motivate each other. We do job searches together. It’s a great thing,” Lennore said.

On June 15, The Dovetail Project graduated it’s 15th Fatherhood Training Class. To apply to become a student, go to the website at thedovetailproject.org.

Source: Chicago Man Founds Project to Help Fathers Be the Best Dad They Can Be 

Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

In the black community, many different opinions abound regarding the usefulness of Black History Month. For some, it is viewed as a necessary and critical tool for cultural celebration and propagating the importance of our collective historical achievements, which otherwise would go unnoticed. For others, it feels like a reductive display offorced lip service conducted during the shortest and coldest month of the year, in lieu of providing us with a more sustained and inclusive role in the everyday curriculum. But what we all can agree on is that presenting our history in a wholly accurate and factual manner delivered with the correct context is of the utmost importance, which is why we react so strongly to inaccurate and/or misrepresentative claims.

That irritation was inflamed this past weekend when The Washington Postpublished an article about a restoration that would be occurring at Monticello, the plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, which is operated as a museum. The restoration to be completed will involve unmasking a bathroom installed in 1941 just steps from Jefferson’s bedroom to reveal what the room really was: Sally Hemings’s bedroom.

In the black community, many different opinions abound regarding the usefulness of Black History Month. For some, it is viewed as a necessary and critical tool for cultural celebration and propagating the importance of our collective historical achievements, which otherwise would go unnoticed. For others, it feels like a reductive display offorced lip service conducted during the shortest and coldest month of the year, in lieu of providing us with a more sustained and inclusive role in the everyday curriculum. But what we all can agree on is that presenting our history in a wholly accurate and factual manner delivered with the correct context is of the utmost importance, which is why we react so strongly to inaccurate and/or misrepresentative claims.

That irritation was inflamed this past weekend when The Washington Postpublished an article about a restoration that would be occurring at Monticello, the plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, which is operated as a museum. The restoration to be completed will involve unmasking a bathroom installed in 1941 just steps from Jefferson’s bedroom to reveal what the room really was: Sally Hemings’s bedroom.

Jefferson owned many slaves at Monticello, but Hemings has received the most attention because she is believed to have mothered at least six of his children. This fact led The Washington Post to use the word “mistress” in the title of its article (which has now been changed) and its tweet regarding the article.

This enraged many people because it’s insulting to identify the relationship between a slave and a slave-owner using the term “mistress” when that term denotes a relationship predicated on mutual choice, autonomy, and affirmative consent — things slaves do not have. As a slave, Hemings was not afforded the privilege of self-determination, meaning she didn’t do what she wanted; she did what she was told. The word to describe that type of interaction is not ‘affair’; it’s rape.

This is so problematic, not just because it erases the abuse that Hemings endured along with generations of other male and female slaves, but also because it romanticizes Jefferson as a man vitalized by romance, reframing his predatory behavior under the guise of mutual enchantment, as Mikki Kendall artfully establishes in her informative Twitter thread.

But this is not an isolated incident, nor is it a brand-new error. The misnomer of “mistress” has been applied to enslaved women by different publications at different times recently and throughout history. In 2015, The New York Times posted a lengthy and in-depthobituary on the life of civil rights icon, Julian Bond, which featured the line, “Julian Bond’s great-grandmother Jane Bond was the slave mistress of a Kentucky farmer.” The Timespublic editor ultimately issued an apology for the mistake after swift backlash erupted online.

And just to reinforce how insidious this misused term has become, it should also be noted that Bond, a black man with a deep mind on issues of race, even reportedly used the word “mistress” himself to describe his great-grandmother, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. That’s why it so important to be vigilant about contextualizing our history, and any history, in an absolutely correct manner.

A slave cannot be a mistress. This is not an “alternative fact” but rather the objective reality of being dominated, dehumanized, and disenfranchised against your will. As we collectively aim to have black history given the weight and appreciation it’s due, let us resolve to ensure that this historical discrepancies are straightened out, corrected, and handed down to future generations with a proper frame of reference. Let’s do better.

Source: Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress” 

North Carolina Neighbors Fired Up Over Plans for New TopGolf On Slave Burial Ground

A vote to bring TopGolf to north Charlotte, N.C., has been delayed after protests erupted due to concerns the entertainment venue will be built on top of a slave burial site.

The rezoning vote to decide if Charlotte will see a second TopGolf, apartment complex and retail space built near Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church has been delayed until Monday, July 17, Channel 9 reported. Neighbors protested the development, which will follow the first TopGolf opening earlier this month since they believed slaves were buried at the location. A historian hired by development company Charter Properties confirmed the suspicion.

Dan Morrill, a Ph.D professor at the University North Carolina at Charlotte, told the news station he visited the lot Thursday, June 15, and said slaves were traditionally buried in the woods with white people in the church’s cemetery, with a wall separating them. The Mallard Creek burial site, which Morrill said had graves marked with rocks, follows that tradition.

The proposal for the development was protested during the City Council meeting Monday, June 19, where controversy erupted over a sign that read, “SOS Save Our Slaves,” which was held by someone who appeared to be white, according to The Charlotte Observer.

“I’m not quite sure if you know how offensive that might be to those of us down here who are African-American,” council member Al Austin, who is Black, told the sign-holder. “I get what you’re trying to say, but you’re the wrong person to have that sign up. Do you understand me? Sir, that is the wrong message to send. … I am quite offended.”

Charter Properties said Morrill is still studying the property and one of the developers, Matt Browder, said once the report is received, they’ll need to “define the boundaries of the cemetery so that it can be properly preserved and protected.”

“Regardless of any zoning decision, the graves will not be disturbed,” he said.

One of the church’s neighbors said he would be disappointed if the burial site was overlooked.

“If they ignore the fact that there are slaves buried outside the wall, our big response would be ‘Shame on you,’” Rankin said.

Source: North Carolina Neighbors Fired Up Over Plans for New TopGolf On Slave Burial Ground 

Rapper Prodigy of Legendary Queens Duo Mobb Deep Dead at 42

Prodigy counted Hot 97 Summer Jam among his last concerts before his death. (Dave Kotinsky /Getty Images)

Prodigy, one-half of the iconic rap duo Mobb Deep from Queens, N.Y., has died.

“It is with extreme sadness and disbelief that we confirm the death of our dear friend Albert Johnson, better known to millions of fans as Prodigy of legendary N.Y. rap duo Mobb Deep,” Mobb Deep’s publicist said in a statement to Rolling Stone Tuesday, June 20. “Prodigy was hospitalized a few days ago in Vegas after a Mobb Deep performance for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis. As most of his fans know, Prodigy battled the disease since birth. The exact causes of death have yet to be determined. We would like to thank everyone for respecting the family’s privacy at this time.”

Prodigy, who was 42 when he died, formed Mobb Deep with rapper Havoc and the group enjoyed success in the 1990s with hits including “Shook Ones” and the Lil Kim feature, “Quiet Storm.” They also enjoyed success with “Hey Luv (Anything)” in 2001, which marked a turn away from raw rap toward a more commercial sound.

Prodigy’s last performance was in Las Vegas at the Art of Rap Fest Saturday, June 15.

Source: Rapper Prodigy of Legendary Queens Duo Mobb Deep Dead at 42 

Texas Gov. Signs ‘Sandra Bland Act’ That Doesn’t Address Issues That Ultimately Led to Her Death

A bill named in honor of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell in July 2015, was signed by Texas’ governor largely without measures addressing racial profiling. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Anderson)

Two years after the death of Sandra Bland, a Black women arrested in Texas during a routine traffic stop who died days later in a county jail, the governor of that state signed into law legislation that would require law enforcement agencies to pay greater attention to mental health conditions.

Texas Gov. Gregg Abbot signed the “Sandra Bland Act” into law on Thursday, June 15.

The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, mandates that Texas county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues to treatment and requires independent law enforcement agencies to investigate jail-related deaths, according to the Texas Tribune.

But it is what the bill does not contain — namely, strong language addressing racial profiling — that is perhaps most noteworthy.

The 28-year-old Illinois native was found hanged in her cell at the Waller County Jail just days after being pulled over for failing to use her turn signal in July 2015. She was arrested after getting into a heated argument with Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia, who was later fired.

Bland’s family later reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Bland’s mysterious death in jail three days after the traffic stop was ruled a suicide. Her family, including her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, questioned that conclusion, prompting them, with backing from activists, to push the state legislature to pass a bill focusing on reforms dealing with law enforcement operations.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, Democrat of Houston, and named in honor of Bland, originally addressed racial profiling during traffic stops, consent searches, counseling for police officers who profiled drivers and jail reforms, according to the Texas Tribune.

But the optimism of Bland’s family waned after some lawmakers, pushed by law enforcement groups, chipped away at the criminal justice reform legislation. A bill by state Sen. John Whitmire, also a Democrat from Houston, that was ultimately signed the governor primarily tackled mental health issues.

Still, said Coleman in a statement, the  Sandra  Bland  Act  has  many  important  measures  that will make the public safer.

“To name just a few, the Sandra Bland Act will prevent traffic stops from escalating by ensuring that all law enforcement officers receive de-escalation training for all situations as part of their basic training and continuing education,” he said. “The Sandra Bland Act will also ensure that cell checks are properly done by providing funding for automated electronic sensors.”

Source:  Texas Gov. Signs ‘Sandra Bland Act’ That Doesn’t Address Issues That Ultimately Led to Her Death 

22 Yr Old Black Man Found Hanging From A Tree In Jackson,Mississippi!

Jackson Police Commander Tyree Jones said officers went to a home on Topp Avenue to do a welfare check. When they arrived on the scene, the found a 22-year-old man hanging from a tree in the backyard. His name has not been released.

Philando Castile, Charleena Lyles … The Body Count In the U.S.’s War Against Black People Continues to Rise

(The Sleuth Journal)

Before we can even process the acquittal of the murder of Philando Castile, we hear about another murder of a Black person by the police occupation forces.  This time. the victim, Charleena Lyles, is a Black woman who also was five months’ pregnant.

Again, there is anger, confusion and calls for justice from the Black community of Seattle, where the latest killing took place. Many might remember that it was in Seattle where two members of the local Black community attempted to call out the racist and hypocritical liberal white community during a visit by Bernie Sanders. The Black activists were subsequently shouted down by a majority of Bernie’s supporters. One of the issues that the activists wanted to raise was the repressive, heavy-handed tactics of the Seattle Police Department.

Some have argued that this rash of killings of Black people caught on video or reported by dozens of witnesses is nothing new, that the images of police choking, shooting and beating poor Black and working-class people is now more visible because of technological innovations that make it easier to capture these images. They are partially right.

Some suggest that Black communities are an internal colony in the US separated into enclaves of economic exploitation and social degradation by visible and often invisible social and economic processes. The police have played the role not of protectors of the unrealized human rights of Black people but as occupation forces. In those occupied zones of repression, everyone knows that the police operate from a different script than the ones presented in the cop shows that permeate popular entertainment culture in the U.S. In those shows, the police are presented as heroic forces battling the forces of evil, which sometimes causes them to see the law and the rights of individuals as impediments. For many viewers, brutality and other practices are forgiven and even supported because the police are supposedly dealing with the irrational and evil forces that lurk in the bowels of the barrios and ghettos in the imagination of the public.

It was perfectly plausible for far too many white people in the U.S. that a wounded Mike Brown, already shot and running away from Darren Wilson, the cop who would eventually murder Michael, would then turn around and run back at Wilson, who claims he had no other choice but to annihilate Michael in a hail of bullets, killing this “demon” as Wilson described him. And unfortunately, many whites will find a way to understand how Charleena Lyles, who called the police to report a burglary, would then find herself dead at the hands of the police she herself called.

But the psychopathology of white supremacy is not the focus here. The concern here is with why some Black people still don’t have a grasped the new conditions that we find ourselves in— that Black people don’t understand that there will never be justice even if the most outrageous killings of Black people by the police ceased. Why? Because incarceration, police killings, beatings, charging our children as adults and locking them away for decades, all of these are inherent in the logic of repression that has always characterized the relationship between the U.S. racist settler-state and Black people.

In other words, if Black people really want this to stop, we have to come to the difficult conclusion, for some, that the settler-colonial, capitalist, white supremacist state and society is the enemy of Black people and most oppressed people in the world. This concept is difficult for many because it means that Black people can no longer deny the fact that we are not equal members of this society, that we are seen as the enemy and that our lives, concerns, perspectives, history and desires for the future are of no concern to the rulers of this state and for vast numbers of ordinary whites.

That is why Charleena Lyles joins Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Philando Castile, just to name a few of our people victimized in the prime of their lives by the protectors of white power wearing police uniforms.

She will not be the last.

The logic of neoliberal capitalism has transformed our communities and peoples into a sector of the U.S. population that is no longer needed. This new reality buttressed by white supremacist ideology that is unable to see the equal value of non-European (white) life has created a precarious situation for Black people, more precarious, than at any other period in U.S. history.

African (Black) people are a peaceful people and believe in justice. But there can be no peace without justice. For as long as our people are under attack, as long as our fundamental collective human rights are not recognized, as long as we don’t have the ability to determine our own collective fate, we will resist, we will fight and we will create the conditions to make sure that the war being waged against us will not continue to be a one-sided conflict.

The essence of the People(s)-Centered Human Rights framework is that the oppressed have a right to resist, the right to self-determination and the right to use whatever means necessary to protect and realize those fundamental rights.

Charleena, we will say your name and the names of all who have fallen as we deliver the final death-blow against this organized barbarism known as the U.S.


Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch magazine. His latest publications include contributions to Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence (Counterpunch Books, 2014), Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA (HarperCollins, 2014) and Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral ( CODESRIA, 2013). He can be reached at www.AjamuBaraka.com

Source: Philando Castile, Charleena Lyles … The Body Count In the U.S.’s War Against Black People Continues to Rise 

How Gentrification Is Undermining the Notion of Black Community and Destroying Black Businesses

Bedstuy is one of the communities that have been significantly changed by gentrification. (Courtesy: Wikimedia)

Lori Shepherd is an African-American small-business owner in Oakland, Calif. Shepherd’s story is becoming an increasingly familiar one for urban Blacks.

“Due to Uber’s decision to move within two blocks of my shared office space, and the construction and limited parking, I’ve had to change up significantly how I work,” Shepherd said. “Instead of always working at my shared space, I have switched to working at a local Black-owned cafe. Unfortunately, last month, they were given an eviction notice from outside contractors, and now even that space is gone.

“The impact for me has been profound in terms of how I work and where.”

For decades, Oakland has been the fount of Black culture in the West. The founding hub of the Black Panther Party and the hometown of Celtics great Bill Russell, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and the Pointer Sisters, the once-majority-Black city has lost nearly 25 percent of its Black residents from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census. While this is, in part, due to the relaxing of previous barriers to integration in other areas and to class promotion within the Black community, this phenomenon can also be blamed on gentrification, or the intentional or unintentional pushing out of residents in a community through improvements to the infrastructure.

The sum of this is the slow decay of the urban African-American community as it is known today. “In terms of gentrification, this occurrence has been fierce with the vast loss of the African-American population, businesses and presence,” Shepherd added. “It is more than disheartening. To put this in perspective, imagine Atlanta losing 60 percent or more of its Black population to white newcomers who have no respect for the existing culture or Black presence.”

“For example, here in Oakland gentrification has been evidenced by white people who’ve moved next door to churches with a long history in the city. These churches have over 50 years of presence, only to find their new neighbors having the audacity to complain to City Council about noise, simply because of choir practice.

“The soul has shifted to hardly any soul at all.”

Gentrification and Black Businesses

In a 2014 speech, Spike Lee took aim at the rash of gentrification in New York, which has seemed to redefine Black communities wholesale. “[Why] did it take this great influx of white people to get the schools better? Why’s there more police protection in Bed-Stuy and Harlem now? Why’s the garbage getting picked up more regularly? We been here!” Lee exclaimed.

“[You’re] talking about the people’s property change? But what about the people who are renting? They can’t afford it anymore! You can’t afford it. People want to live in Fort Greene. People wanna live in Clinton Hill. The Lower East Side, they move to Williamsburg, they can’t even afford f***in’, motherf***in’ Williamsburg now because of motherf***in’ hipsters.”

On 125th Street, for example, large white-owned “big box” stores are appearing where only a decade or two before, Black-owned “mom & pop” stores stood. For many, gentrification has razed the Harlem they knew and replaced it with one distinctly less Black.

Gentrification typically happens when infrastructure or material changes to a neighborhood reach a point that the neighborhood is now attractive to residents of a higher class than that of the residents of the neighborhood. This can happen in multiple ways. In the case of Harlem, which was the capital of Black America and the home of the Black Intelligentsia, it was tax abatement and a change of zoning laws that opened up the enclave to “urban pioneers,” young whites that chose to reject suburbia and return to the city.

As a population with more disposable income moves in, property owners respond by improving their properties in the neighborhood to attract the new tenants and by raising prices on leases and rent. This, in effect, causes a squeeze-out; the residents that already live in the neighborhoods cannot afford the rising rents, forcing them to leave homes they and their families have lived in for decades.

For traditional Black businesses, the effect of this can be twofold. First, many Black businesses in gentrified areas find their leases to be illegally broken or challenged by property owners desperate to cash in. Second, those that could somehow hold on to their leases now face a customer base radically different from what they previously had that may be at odds to the products being served, increased competition and a raise in price for key services.

This has led to 30 percent of all Black-owned businesses disappearing in New York City from 2007 and 2017. Per a report by BuzzFeed, of the 25 largest cities in the United States, only Detroit and Jacksonville, Fla., have comparable numbers.

“When Black-owned businesses decline, I’m alarmed. When local residents are priced out of their neighborhoods, I’m frustrated. We have to do better,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer told BuzzFeed News. “We need to focus on real, community-level wealth creation. When we talk about gentrification, we can’t just focus on rising rents or increased cost of living. We also need to ensure that local residents gain access to new, local jobs.”

In New York City, African-Americans are 22 percent of the population but only 3 percent of the local business owners. A reason for the decline may be the declining Black population in the city.

Syracuse, N.Y., has endured aggressive gentrification that has had the net result of leaving the city’s core highly impoverished. (Courtesy: Wikimedia)

Syracuse and Gentrification Unchecked

Many of the traditional African-American neighborhoods that are now being gentrified or have been gentrified were, in reality, the result of aggressive racial policies and racially motivated migration patterns.

Syracuse sits in the geographic center of New York State. The city has been an important transportation hub for most of the nation’s history, with the Erie Canal being dug primarily to simplify the transferring of Syracuse salt to New York City and to the Mississippi River basin. This ready positioning made the city and its metropolitan area an industrial juggernaut in the earlier part of the 20th century and a higher-education leader in the later part, hosting more than 10 major universities and colleges within an hour’s drive of the city, including Colgate, Cornell and Syracuse universities.

Syracuse also has the distinction of being the American major city with the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among Blacks and Hispanics, per the Century Foundation and the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey. This concentrated poverty — the sense of being poor and growing up around other people that are poor — creates a sense of desolation: a lack of critical infrastructure such as supermarkets, more violence, declining graduation and college matriculation rates and less possibility of class promotion from generation to generation.

“Nationwide, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods and the population living in them has risen at an alarming pace. After declining by more than one-fourth, from 3,417 to 2,510 between 1990 and 2000, the number of high-poverty census tracts has risen steadily,” Paul Jargowsky wrote for the Century Foundation. “In the 2005–09 ACS data, before the financial crisis took hold, high-poverty census tracts increased by nearly one-third, to 3,310 — nearly matching the 1990 figure. By 2009–13, an additional 1,100 tracts had poverty rates of 40 percent or more, bringing the total to 4,412. The overall increase in high-poverty census tracts since 2000 was 76 percent.”

A key component to Syracuse’s plight is the lack of Black-owned businesses. Areas such as the Upper Valley, which are predominately Black, have seen a steep bleed off of nonwhite-owned businesses since 1969, when the city ranked 72nd in poverty among the nation’s largest cities.

Syracuse fell victim to gentrification run amok. In the city’s earliest years, it celebrated a growth rate that exceeded that of even New York City. However, various factors, including the discovery of salt in Louisiana and Utah, slowed growth until it was nearly stagnant by World War II. As Southern Blacks settled into the area around the 15th Ward, many of the city’s white residents headed for the suburbs. This gave the Black-populated areas the designation of “slum lands” to property developers, as it had a collapsing real estate value.

“Racial barriers have created an overcrowded condition that many experts felt may someday lead to troubles,” the Syracuse Post-Standard reported in 1954.

Exploiting this weakened view on the Black neighborhoods and hoping that taking definitive action could restart the growth rate and make Syracuse one of the largest cities in the nation, Syracuse destroyed the 15th Ward in 1956 and erected the I-81 Downtown Bridge, an elevated freeway that bisects downtown Syracuse and the Upper Valley. This destroyed the tightly held Black city community without much interference from the city’s leadership; the city was willing to do whatever state and federal officials asked to secure funding.

The sum effect was to push the Black population from the near downtown into the Southside, encouraging white flight. The very highway that was envisioned to bring residents into the city core would allow for residents to work in the city but live outside of it. The city’s population dropped from approximately 221,000 in 1950 to 144,000 as of 2014. Over the same timescale, the Black population increased tenfold.

Redlining, or the marking off of areas where African-Americans could not get home loans, made property ownership less of a possibility for Black residents, as did rental bans in specific neighborhoods. Worse, the white flight to the suburbs encouraged development around the city instead of in it. Despite the population of Onondaga County, where Syracuse is its county seat, not increasing since the 1970s, the county has seen 61 miles of new road development since 1961, 7,000 new housing units since 2000 and 12,500 acres added to the sanitary district.

A Population Displaced

While Syracuse is an example of reverse gentrification or the implementation of infrastructure improvements with the ultimate result of collapsing the social order, the impetus that led to Syracuse’s decision to willingly bisect its own communities exists in cities throughout the nation. Cities are motivated to increase their tax rolls, which will make it easier to pay for needed infrastructure repairs and social services. To do this, they must both increase their populations and bring in more affluent populations, which would drive commercial growth.

Gentrified growth tends to have adverse side effects, however. Many of the suburbs that popped up around Syracuse after the creation of the I-81/I-690 intersection developed anti-poor zoning policies. Skaneateles, one of the wealthier of the Syracuse suburbs, for example, allows no multifamily dwellings with more than four units per acre.

While the county has committed to expand county infrastructure no farther than where it already is and is participating with the city in bringing new employers into the core and promoting the Say Yes to Education program, which provides at least three years of free college tuition to Syracuse City District’s high school students, undoing the effects of gentrification may be difficult.

“The economic development in the 21st century in the world is centered in cities because of the concentration of intellectual energy that you have,” Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said to The Atlantic. “You can’t have a thriving suburb without having a thriving city.”

Not every city is like Syracuse, however. Typically, gentrification is a slower, less-dramatic event that happens resident by resident, property by property.  In Portland, Ore., for example, the rising popularity of Portland among hipsters created a tide of rising housing prices and de facto redlining that drove the city’s Black community out of historical neighborhoods and toward the fringes and the suburbs. With an average rent increase of 20 percent, this decidedly unfussy artist enclave is steadily becoming available only to the wealthy. Even the early “urban pioneers” that started the gentrification craze in Portland have been priced out.

This stings all the more in light of Portland’s history of racial exclusion. “If Portland is trying to be this model of sustainable, livable, walkable, 20-minute cities and it’s not racially diverse and it’s not class diverse, we’ve got big problems about what that means for anywhere else,” Lisa Bates, a professor of urban planning at Portland State University, said to Colorlines. “Is it only viable to use public resources to create a favorable environment if you get rid of all the undesirable people?”

In Detroit, the gentrification of the city core has created strident arguments over if the push to make Detroit economically solvent is disenfranchising the poor. The purchase of neglected buildings in the city’s former Cass Corridor to turn into luxury apartments and high-end retailers created a situation where there is an affluent core in the city, but everything around that core is still facing racial and socioeconomic disparities. As noted by the Guardian, residents living just outside the core are making 25 percent less than those in the core, with more than 150,000 building vacant or abandoned.

New Realities

A reality of modern-day life is that gentrification will happen. Young white professionals have rejected the notions of suburbanism and white flight and are returning to the cities in increasing numbers. It is now on city planners to find a way to make this work. The way forward is not to carve out new enclaves for the affluent in the cities or to allow displacement of the existing populace, but to find ways to promote heterogeneous communities and to encourage infrastructure improvements without raising property costs.

“Gentrification is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way in which it often occurs is, because it typically leads to displacement,” Derek Hyra, professor at American University and author of “Race, Class and Politics in Cappuccino City,’ said. “In America, we are really good at developing places instead of people in places. When investments come in to benefit areas of concentrated poverty where the people can stay in place, then the investments are a good thing. However, gentrification as a means to poverty displacement, instead of poverty relief, is destructive.”

Hyra pointed out that, even for those who are not economically displaced by gentrification, social and political displacement can still occur. As a community increasingly changes its populace, it changes its personality. What was once a vibrant Black community ceases to be in light of its Black residents and businesses being driven to other markets and other communities, only to become something else.

As many African-Americans were driven to these neighborhoods because of aggressive racial policies and economic disenfranchisement, being forced out of them now seems unnecessarily cruel. For those that are left due to subsidized housing or other means, what they are left with may be as alien and foreboding as being forced to live in a new neighborhood.

The road forward to closing the attainment gap is to increase the number of Black business and homeowners. With Black homeownership rates from 2013 to 2017 being 42.7 percent, compared to 71.8 percent for white homeowners and with just 2.1 percent of all American businesses being Black-owned, efforts must be made to bring African-Americans to the table and not to push them away.

However, as many cities have yet to fully recover from the Great Recession and as the federal government plans major rollbacks to funding to minority business development, the goal of encouraging and protecting Black businesses in the inner city may be a difficult one to achieve.

“There is a gentrification wave that has taken over the nation as we come off the Great Recession, and for the first time, it is hitting Black neighborhoods,” Hyra added. “Usually, urban investment completely bypasses Black communities, but not this time. This will bring property values up. However, the question of how to safeguard the community’s identity must be considered. These neighborhoods were the safe havens of the Black community during times of strife and great violence.

“They deserve to be saved.”

Source: How Gentrification Is Undermining the Notion of Black Community and Destroying Black Businesses