Gabrielle C. Newell Posts

Author: Gabrielle C. Newell

IN CHICAGO, ORGANIZERS ARE LOOKING TO #ERASETHEDATABASE OF BLACK AND LATINX FOLKS LISTED AS POSSIBLE GANG MEMBERS

In January 2017, BYP100, OCAD, and Mijente, launched a campaign to re-define what it means for Chicago to be a “Sanctuary City” to push forward community initiatives and policies that increase community safety, specifically addressing criminalization of U.S.-born and immigrant Black and Latinx people. In addition to eliminating the Chicago Gang Database, the campaign includes the removal of the carve outs from Chicago’sWelcoming City Ordinance, which exclude certain immigrants from protections from deportation provided by the city – including people in the Chicago Gang Database.

In a recent analysis of the Chicago Police Department’s Strategic Subject List (SSL), a  tool used by theChicago Police Department to predict who will be involved in gun violence, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) found that amongst those labeled as potential gang members 75% are Black and 21% are Latinos.

“The data shows that the Chicago Gang Database is a target list of Black and Brown people who will be the victims of immigration raids, of incarceration and criminalization, and further policing,” stated Janae Bonsu, organizer with Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and one of the students leading the research.

The research, under the direction of UIC Professor Andy Clarno, also revealed that there are 64,948  people in the Chicago area that are suspected to be gang affiliated. Out of the 64,948 people listed as having a gang affiliation, and 41.6% are Black males under 30. In addition, 67.5% have never been arrested for violent offenses or unlawful use of a weapon, and 20.9%  have never been arrested for violent offenses, unlawful use of a weapon, or narcotics. That means more than 13,500 people on the CPD gang database have never been arrested for the three principal activities that the CPD considers gang related.

Being labeled as a suspected gang member has serious consequences for immigrant and U.S.-born, Black and Latino residents of Chicago. For immigrants, including Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, being on the gang database could mean being targeted for an immigration raid or deportation, as the lawsuit against the City of Chicago by Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez has highlighted. For U.S.-born Black and Latinx people, it could mean being disqualified from getting a job, being denied bond or given higher bonds in local courts, and increased criminal sentences.

“Having a list for immigration enforcement and police to target does not live up to the promise of a city that calls itself a ‘Sanctuary,’” stated Tania Unzueta, Policy Director of Mijente and one of the organizers against the Chicago Gang Database. “We urge City Council and the Mayor to eliminate this list and work on solutions for our communities that invest in resources and real solutions to reduce violence and invest in our neighborhoods” she concluded.

SOCIALISM ISN’T PERFECT, BUT IT’S DAMN BETTER THAN WHAT WE HAVE

Everyone seems to be talking about socialism these days, but what does it mean? The article below is one of a series on socialism, what it can mean for Americans in the 21st century, and how we might get there. Other articles in the series can be found here.

On February 1, 2016 BYP100 (Black Youth Project 100) released the Agenda to Build Black Futures – a comprehensive platform of bold economic goals developed by young Black people. As one of them, I admittedly didn’t have a firm grasp on all the nuances and distinctions between the different political economies I’d often hear mentioned in social justice circles – socialism, communism, Marxism…and I still don’t. I do know, however, that capitalism has been the bane of most people’s existence (99% to be exact), and it was the reason why we needed to even draft such a document.

My co-authors and I wrote the Agenda based on what we thought would get Black and all oppressed people closer to social, economic, and political freedom. It wasn’t until after it was released and the feedback started rolling in that I heard the Agenda is, in many ways, a socialist economic platform. This, in turn, caused me to reflect on what the hell socialism even means.

The Agenda covers a lot of ground, but many of the recommendations we put forth have been articulated and fought for in the social movements of yesteryear – universal childcare, guaranteed income, baby bonds, jobs with a living wage, the right to unionize without retaliation, paid family leave, community land trusts, and cooperatives – just to name a few things.

But there are some things that today’s freedom fighters are much more vocal on, like comprehensive healthcare that covers gender-affirming and transition-related care, valuing women’s paid and unpaid labor, reproductive justice, and taking the profit out of punishment. If folks say that the Agenda is socialist, then I’ve come to some conclusions about what socialism must mean.

I understand capitalism to correspond with competition. In a capitalist society, one is measured by the quantity and quality (i.e. value) of one’s labor. Everyone is disposable. Socialism, then, must mean not having to compete to climb up a proverbial ladder because someone will inevitably be below someone else. Socialism must mean obliterating the notion of struggling to survive. In a world where poverty does not exist, neither do police (or at least not in their historically oppressive capacity). In a world where police don’t exist, neither do prisons and jails. That is the world we had in mind in drafting the Agenda. Utopian? Most would say “definitely”. But I know its possible.

If the “playing field” is to ever be leveled, those complicit and accessory to the harms done that have caused and perpetuate the inequities that society’s most marginalized face must make amends. Yes, I’m talking about reparations.

I’m writing this on the day that the Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will be the next face on the $20 bill to replace Andrew Jackson. Harriet Tubman was a former slave and an embodiment of anti-capitalism who risked her life to liberate the people who white men like Jackson purchased as property and whose labor they exploited. If Tubman was alive, I’m pretty sure she would rather see all those bills that her face is about to grace to go towards righting the wrongs of racist public policy over many lifetimes.

What’s really ironic is that in 1862, Congress signed off on reparations to slaveholders in D.C. that were loyal to the Union for their freed slaves. Yet, the horrors that enslaved people and their descendants endured by their hands haven’t been enough to move Congress to grant reparations. Oh, America.

In many ways, I think the aforementioned recommendations put forth in the Agenda are forms of reparations. If those same recommendations are socialist, then perhaps we should really consider this socialism thing (and self-proclaimed socialist, Bernie Sanders, should certainly reconsider his stance on reparations).

In any case, I agree with Susan Webb when she says, “Socialism is simply about rebuilding our society so that…the people who make this country run – not a tiny group of super-rich corporate profiteers – are the deciders, the planners, the policymakers.”

I disagree with Webb, though, on this notion that “socialism is rooted in American values.” Freedom is one value she listed, but freedom can’t possibly be an American value if, from its founding and at present, the structures that hold it together withhold freedom from so many people. The America I know has no values, which is why I’m committed to rebuilding an America informed by the values of freedom, justice, love, radical inclusivity, collective power, and interdependence.

Taken together, I won’t ever say that socialism is perfect – nothing is. But it’s damn better than what we have now

I SUPPORT BLACK-ON-BLACK ECONOMICS

One common misconception I seem to constantly run into when discussing reparatory justice is the idea that there is only one way in which such justice can be delivered – through a lump sum given to the descendants of slaves. This is not the case. Our call for reparations is for this nation to invest in the Black community so that we may, in turn, invest in ourselves. This investment could come in the form of a federally funded scholarship fund, giving Blacks access to legitimate and ethical mortgages, or even supplying fair loan agreements to Black-owned businesses.

While reparatory justice is imperative, it is also necessary to equip those within our community with economic savvy. Earning wealth is one thing, but being financially literate enough to retain and multiply said wealth is another. While income growth for Blacks continues to rise, the wealth gap between Blacks and whites remains larger than ever. Much of this has to do with investing practices (or lack thereof) of those within our community.

It’s difficult to grow money into wealth when you are not sure how to go about doing so or do not trust many banking systems due to past discriminatory practices. Therefore, financial literacy programs (as outlined in the Black Youth Project 100’s Agenda to Build Black Futures) and integration of said programs into current community banking systems would be greatly beneficial.

In recent news, fifteen Black entrepreneurs opened accounts at Washington, D.C.’s oldest Black-owned bank, Industrial Bank, in an effort to encourage the Black community to invest in itself. By keeping the Black dollar within the community for an extended period of time, generating collective wealth has a greater possibility of becoming a reality.

In 2014 the NAACP reported that while the Black community had $1 trillion in buying power, the Black dollar only stayed in the community up to six hours. Those six hours in comparison to the Jewish communities where the Jewish dollar circulates for twenty days and in Asian communities where the Asian dollar circulates for approximately a month.

Once again, the discussion of learning sage investment practices is key, as I believe it also leads to greater knowledge about how to grow the Black dollar within its respective community. The Black community is consistently exploited by big business as we are constantly inundated with messaging conveying the idea that these corporations, mega-banks, and other white-owned establishments, deserve our dollar. I believe it’s time to lift up our own community by getting smart fiscally and supporting our own.

By recycling the dollar within our own communities we increase the profits earned by Black-owned businesses that, in turn, reinvest in the community in a variety of ways (e.g., living and paying taxes there, employing the population that lives there, etc.). This would cause the demand for Black-owned establishments to rise, and would ultimately complete the cycle of encouraging others to open new businesses to do the same.

However, the promised success of this plan is contingent upon the initial investment. Reparatory justice that addresses multiple forms of financial discrimination is paramount. Reparations should no longer be seen as a handout, but as a hand up to a level playing field where the Black community has a fair chance at winning.

[1] Desilver, Drew. “Black Incomes Are Up, but Wealth Isn’t” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/08/30/black-incomes-are-up-but-wealth-isnt/

[2] Fletcher, Michael A. “The Big Difference Between How Wealthy African-Americans and Whites Investors Treat Their Money” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2014/11/24/the-big-difference-between-how-wealthy-african-american-and-white-investors-treat-their-money/

[3] Stitt, Robert. “Fifteen Black Entrepreneurs Make a Big Deposit In a Black-Owned Bank”

CONGRESS HEIGHTS COURT HEARING: THE FUTURE FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN D.C.

Currently the D.C. Attorney General is prosecuting a case that represents the future for affordable housing in D.C. In Congress Heights, just 5 miles from the Capitol, tenants are battling slum-like conditions. Now, if the Attorney General is successful, these tenants could gain ownership of their homes, converting them into a tenant-owned housing development.

With a scenic river view of the Capitol, the Southeastern quadrant of D.C. represents the next frontier for gentrification. And here, in the majority Black neighborhood of Congress Heights, the disparities are brutally evident: a landlord (responsible for a year-long bedbug infestation and collapsed roof) is attempting to expel a community of longtime residents to make room for a new, richer clientele.

Many groups in D.C. identify tenant-owned housing as the most effective response to rising housing prices and displacement in D.C. Home ownership has been linked to higher educational outcomes for children, wealth accumulation for families, and lower demonstrated levels of stress. However, the speculative nature of the D.C. housing market makes it difficult for long-time renters to buy into the market and benefit from the growth.

These advantages are recognized in the Agenda to Build Black Futures, a recent report by Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100). This flagship document of the national Black youth movement highlights tenant-owned housing as a key factor in stabilizing and strengthening Black communities.

This is reinforced by the People’s Platform, a citywide campaign offering a comprehensive plane to secure affordable housing and quality jobs for longtime D.C. residents. They identify the tools already available to the City to enable longtime renters to transition into homeownership.

One tool is the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), legislation intended to empower renters to purchase their homes. However, as recognized by council member Elissa Silverman at the Thursday night court hearing, this instrument is unwieldy and underutilized. Using available funds from the Housing Production Trust Fund, the City should facilitate the use of TOPA and enable tenants to buy their homes.

This hearing represents a pivotal moment for the city. Black homeownership rates in D.C. are dropping dramatically, currently at levels lower than that of 1990. And, speculation is driving up housing costs at astonishing rates creating even larger barriers to homeownership.

If the Attorney General is successful, this community can claim ownership of its home and participate in the growth and development of D.C. If not, this is another sad example of D.C. residents losing their homes and the City losing control of the housing market.