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The Attack on Black Leadership
New York City
December 9, 2003

I want to thank The Coalition to Save BUF New York for inviting me to be
here this evening.

You know that when you call, I try my best to be available. How can anyone
say "no" to New York City!

In politics, I've learned that friendship is a very rare thing. The temptation to sell out friends sometimes is very high. Likewise, the temptation to sell out conscience is also very high.

That's because tremendous profits can be made if shaving around the margins of conscience is permitted; if shaving around the margins of ethics is permitted; if reshaping the law to unlevel the playing field is
committed--huge profits can be had. And so, it is in the interest of the powers that be who stand to make those profits to share a bit of it with those in a position to change the environment so that the shaving can become possible or acceptable.

So, we shouldn't take it lightly when a sitting Member of Congress says that he was bribed on the House floor--a crime to be sure--to ensure that he violated his conscience and voted for the President's Medicare bill. The
leaders in the Republican Party told the retiring Congressman that $100,000 could flow into his son's campaign coffers if the Congressman were to vote right. Now, you can imagine that more than anything else, this Congressman would want his son to follow him into the world's most powerful parliament. But this particular Congressman had a conscience. He had ethics. He didn't want an unlevel playing field for our nation's seniors. And so, he voted no despite the bribe.

But when that Congressman voted his conscience, he was told that his son could kiss help from the Republicans goodbye.

Now, the question is, how much will Republicans get from their corporate
friends if one vote in the Congress was worth a hundred thousand dollars? And what exactly does that Medicare bill do to us? And what does it give to the corporations?

This scenario bears resemblance to the problem that we are here to discuss tonight, and that is, the attack on black leadership.

Now, if they would do that to one of their own, just imagine what they do to
us.

But we don't have to imagine what they do to us. We know.

On December 4th, we commemorated the life and the murder of Fred Hampton, Chair of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party or at least we tried to, but the videotaped beating murder of Nathaniel Jones by Cincinnati police kept detracting us. We commemorate Fred Hampton's life because he was young, articulate, charismatic--he could have been a Congressman from Chicago. And should have been. Except that he was black and he had a conscience and he wanted to better the conditions of his people. And so, instead of a promising political career, Fred Hampton was executed by Chicago police with two point-blank shots fired into his head. His pregnant fiancée was lying in the bed next to him.

But by this time, remember, the FBI had already articulated its policy that
there would be no other Martin Luther King Jr.-type black leader who had not been pre-selected by them. In 1965 the CIA wrote that somewhere at the top there must be a clean Negro who could step into the vacuum and chaos if Martin Luther King Jr. were either exposed or assassinated. But just like Dr. King before him, Fred Hampton was that kind of unbuyable, unbossable black leader who might just ignite the black and white masses to unite and overthrow the regime that had so corrupted American politics. And interestingly, in both of those cases, there was a black man, planted beside these two giants, but who was doing the bidding of the political elites--for a buck. In the case of Fred Hampton, the black man who assisted the FBI in Hampton's murder was Fred's own bodyguard, William O'Neal, who after Hampton's murder was given a "bonus" from the FBI for his work. As for Dr. King, it is now documented that his own SCLC accountant, Mr. James Harrison, was a paid informant for the FBI.

Yes, friendship and principle and conviction are rare things in politics.

But our leaders weren't only targeted in these two somewhat recent cases.

Government documents reveal that our leaders have been targeted as far back as Marcus Garvey. In a Justice Department memo dated October 11, 1919, J. Edgar Hoover writes that Marcus Garvey is "an exceptionally fine orator, creating much excitement among the negroes" and at another point in the same document Hoover writes, "Unfortunately, however, he has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation." The Justice Department then paid a black man, a Mr. James Wormley Jones, to work his way into a position of trust at UNIA. The resultant "mail fraud" charges were all that could be cooked up against Garvey, but were enough to land him in the Atlanta federal prison and then deported as an undesirable alien.

Now in each of these three cases, someone close to the person in question was secretly working for the other side. And while Garvey might be counted among the first to be targeted in such a way that we know about, certainly King and Hampton weren't the last. But seemingly, all it took to earn a "bullseye" was fine oratory skills, charisma, a plan, and some action on behalf of our people. In the meantime, I wonder whatever happened to Wormley, Harrison, and O'Neal. Did they live long lives in prosperity after their betrayal of our
leaders?

And if they did, what a metaphor for the state of black leadership today. To shake the tree is to make the fruit drop, but also is to suffer.

To come along and pick up the fruit makes one fat, wealthy, and wise.

But what becomes of a community that rewards only those whose only function is to pick up the fruit somebody else shook to the ground? What happens when there ain't no more fruit laying on the ground to be picked up? What does the community then do? In other words, if the Cincinnati power structure has managed to buy off all the black leaders who will come to the defense of the next Nathaniel Jones? Or pick any city? What does a people do when it has allowed all of its leaders to be "neutralized" or picked by the opposing side?

In the face of stiff, at times illegal, government action, it has become clear that to be a tree shaker is a difficult if not outright deadly occupation. But what do we do now that all the fruit is just about gone?

The fruit that's already on the ground is Brown versus Board of Education;
The 1964 Civil Rights Act; the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the Fair Housing Act;
Motor Voter. All various forms of affirmative action. It's protection from
police brutality and capricious government or government-sanctioned actions against us individually or as a group. That's the fruit that Malcolm and Martin and Garvey and Hampton and millions of others struggled for.

Oh well, school boards across the country have declared Brown dead and resegregation is almost a fait accompli. After a few rounds against Denny's, Cracker Barrel, Adams Mark Hotels the Civil Rights Act is still intact, but without its sister act for economic affirmative action, only a few--perhaps the few who pick up the fruit--can afford the services or to fight back if the services are not provided. My 1996 redistricting case dealt a severe blow to the authority of the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department to correct offending behavior by states and local jurisdictions wanting to discriminate against black voters. And the Supreme Court just about took care of the rest by defining down what could trigger an infringement on black voting power. Of course, every time we fail to vote we further seal our disfranchisement and give the other side exactly what they want.

You could say that the tree shakers of the Civil Rights moment in our
country's history gave us the America and the rights that we enjoy today.

However, while we were celebrating those who were picking up that wonderful fruit--and I've been one of them--our community forgot to celebrate those who shook it down in the first place. And what a pity we don't even know about those who betrayed the brave men and women who fought so hard for us to be able to enjoy this country as full citizens. We don't know about them, but we can see what they did to our movement.

Today, our children struggle to gain admission to college while we fight off
attempts to privatize elementary education; we struggle to get equal health
care from a system of unequal access to doctors; our businesses struggle to get government contracts although we all pay taxes; and the districts that once elected us have been diluted so that white political parties share the spoils of black voting patterns. And instead of rigorous examination of the challenges before us, increasingly we have elected representatives who run away from us.

Now, I want to fast forward to Election Day in November of this year, in the
city of Philadelphia. The black incumbent mayor who joyfully exclaimed one day that "black folks are running this town"--kinda the way Charles Barron talks now--is up for reelection against Republican Stan Katz.

Now, I don't know John Street, but I do know that when I was in my
redistricting problem, despite the fact that he didn't know me, he sent help
to Georgia because he knew that the attack on me was not an attack just on me, but an attack on black political power and independence.

But something happened along the way to John Street's reelection. Can you imagine the FBI sitting around a table trying to figure out a way to entrap Mayor Street? Well, that's exactly what happened. The FBI, as you probably now know, planted bugs in Mayor Street's office because the campaign season was approaching and they hoped to find him doing something wrong. They said, we have to act now to get the bugs in while he needs to raise money.

Can you believe that?

But what's also unbelievable is that a black man in the Street Administration was targeted and lost his job along with his reputation, because he wanted to get more city contracts to black businesses in a town that's 50% black.

Can you believe that?

In other words, if we have to give you the seat, don't mess with who gets
the money. Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice, Ward Connerly, Colin Powell and others whose names might be more local, parade around our communities, this country, and the world carrying out policies that betray the very movement of the people we say we revere. And they do that in our name.

Can you believe that?

It is past time for us to take stock of our situation and understand the
critical role that tree shakers play in our community.

Just because the big downtown newspapers excoriate them doesn't mean we should too.

And conversely, if those same big downtown newspapers praise them, it
certainly doesn't mean that we should too.

More than likely, if they are being excoriated it is for a reason. And all too often that reason is because they are charismatic, energetic, have a plan, and are acting on behalf of our people.

We cannot listen to people and institutions whose agenda runs counter to
ours and be swayed by their public statements without critical analysis of their motivation.

I'm sick of seeing black man after black man after black man after black man sleeping on our city streets and no one in high office doing anything about it.

I'm tired of reading story after story about the young Latino men and women in the military who hope to become American citizens by offering up their bodies on the frontlines of an illegal war.

And I'm sick and tired of seeing the people who are trying to make our
communities and our country better mistreated sometimes even by us, the people they are trying to help.

Instead of real leaders like Garvey, Malcolm, King, and Hampton, COINTELPRO offers us handpicked "court priests" who are more loyal to the power-wielders than to the people.

Today they have plied our community full of these COINTELPRO "court priests" and they are given the airwaves to make you believe in them, to make you look up to them, so that your children want to be just like them.

Finally, the news media will make all kinds of outrageous and outlandish
statements about anyone who fights for justice and who is not afraid to
stand up and speak out. And as for black leaders, some would rather have us seen and not heard. They'd love for us to just sit down and shut up. But I propose to you today that that is not what Garvey was deported for or Malcolm, Martin, or Hampton died for.

In fact, silence is consent. And that's not leadership at all. That's selling out.

But if the objective is to have real leadership, and not just somebody
leading, then we--the community--must be prepared to walk that lonely,
friendless road with our leaders who have the courage to stand up.

So every time you read a scorching article about Alton Maddox--although he writes them himself now--know that he has struck a nerve that makes him a target. The powers that be just wish that he would go away. Just like me. But he won't. He's made of sterner stuff. Alton Maddox just goes on and on and on and on.

And when something unflattering is aired over the radio about BUF New York, just recognize that BUF New York must've done something for the community that the power structure didn't want and so they struck back in such a way as to make you lose confidence in their leadership. Just like we saw with Garvey and until today with Mayor Street, they will even make up stuff to turn you against your true leaders.

Now is not the time for us to run away from the people who make things
happen for our community and our country. Now is the time for us to run toward them and to give them the one thing that is in such short supply these days in our mean-spirited, lop-sided struggle for justice in this country and in our policies around the world. We must give them true friendship.

And while we all lament the plight of Cincinnati blacks who have seen 16
unarmed blackmen murdered by their police over these past 6 years, let's
also pause to celebrate the lives of the people who take the front line every day in defense of our community.

Thank you for inviting me to be here to celebrate the active vision of Betty
Dopson, Viola Plummer, Bob Law, Alton Maddox, Kermit Eady, Dr. McIntosh, Leonard Dunston, and Mr. Powell. Let's show these folks our love.

Thank you!

 

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