Why Taking A Knee Matters

From Louis Armstrong to the N.F.L.: Ungrateful as the New Uppity

Bills Taking A Knee Photo: Jerome Davis 

Bills Taking A Knee Photo: Jerome Davis 

By Jelani Cobb

Sixty years ago, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, became a flashpoint in the nascent civilrights movement when Governor Orval Faubus refused to abide by the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Faubus famously deployed the state’s National Guard to prevent nine African- American students from attending classes at the high school. In the midst of the crisis, a high-school journalist interviewing Louis Armstrong about an upcoming tour asked the musician about his thoughts on the situation, prompting Armstrong to refer to the Arkansas governor as several varieties of “MF's.” (In the interest of finding a printable quote, his label for Faubus was changed to “ignorant plowboy.”) Armstrong, who was scheduled to perform in the Soviet Union as a cultural ambassador on behalf of the State Department, cancelled the tour—a display of dissent that earned him the scorn and contempt of legions of whites, shocked by the trumpeter’s apparent lack of patriotism. As the historian Penny Von Eschen notes in “Satchmo Blows Up the World,” a history of the American usage of black culture as a tool of the Cold War, students at the University of Arkansas accused Armstrong of “creating an issue where there was none,” and joined the procession of groups cancelling Armstrong’s scheduled concerts.

The free-range lunacy of Donald Trump’s speech on Friday night in Alabama, where he referred to Colin Kaepernick— and other N.F.L. players who silently protest police brutality— as a “son of a bitch,” and of the subsequent Twitter tantrums in which the President, like a truculent six-year-old, disinvited the Golden State Warriors from a White House visit, illustrates that the passage of six decades has not dimmed this dynamic confronted by Armstrong, or by any prominent black person tasked with the entertainment of millions of white ones. There again is the presence of outrage for events that should shock the conscience, and the reality of people who sincerely believe, or who have at least convincingly lied to themselves, that dissenters are creating an issue where there is none. Kaepernick began his silent, kneeling protest at the beginning of last season, not as an assault against the United States military or the flag but as a dissent against a system that has, with a great degree of consistency, failed to hold accountable police who kill unarmed citizens. Since he Why Taking A Knee Matters From Louis Armstrong to the N.F.L.: Ungrateful as the New Uppity By Jelani Cobb did this, forty-one unarmed individuals have been fatally shot by police in the United States, twelve of them African-American, according to a database maintained by the Washington Post. The city of St. Louis recently witnessed three days of protests after the acquittal of Jason Stockley, the former officer who, while still working for the city’s police force, fatally shot Anthony Smith, an eighteenyear- old African-American motorist who had led officers on a chase. Stockley emerged from his vehicle, having declared that he would “kill the motherfucker,” then proceeded to fire five rounds into the car. Later, a firearm was found on the seat of Smith’s car, but the weapon bore only Stockley’s DNA. The issue is not imaginary.

Yet the belief endures, from Armstrong’s time and before, that visible, affluent African- American entertainers are obliged to adopt a pose of ceaseless gratitude—appreciation for the waiver that spared them the low status of so many others of their kind. Stevie Wonder began a performance in Central Park last night by taking a knee, prompting Congressman Joe Walsh to tweet that Wonder was “another ungrateful black multi-millionaire.” Ungrateful is the new uppity. Trump’s supporters, by a twenty-four-point margin, agree with the idea that most Americans have not got as much as they deserve—though they overwhelmingly withhold the right to that sentiment from African-Americans. Thus, the wonder is not the unhinged behavior of this weekend but rather that it took Trump so long to exploit a target as rich in potential racial resentment as wealthy black athletes who have the temerity to believe in the First Amendment.

It’s impossible not to be struck by Trump’s selective patriotism. It drives him to curse at black football players but leaves him struggling to create false equivalence between Nazis and anti-Fascists in Charlottesville. It inspires a barely containable contempt for Muslims and immigrants but leaves him mute in the face of Russian election intervention. He cannot tolerate the dissent against literal flagwaving but screams indignation at the thought of removing monuments to the Confederacy, which attempted to revoke the authority symbolized by that same flag. He is the vector of the racial id of the class of Americans who sent death threats to Louis Armstrong, the people who necessitated the presence of a newly federalized National Guard to defend black students seeking to integrate a public school. He contains multitudes— all of them dangerously ignorant.

It has been convenient and politically profitable for Trump to paint the black athletes’ protests as an inane attack upon the symbols of the United States, but he is deeply implicated, and is increasingly aggravating the actual cause of this discord. It was Trump who urged police officers in Brentwood, New York, to treat the suspects in their charge with casual brutality. Trump’s Department of Justice has overseen the dismantling of the community-policing initiative, which was meant to encourage greater rapport between law enforcement and the neighborhoods they patrol. It is the President’s D.O.J. that has displayed disdain for the federal consent decrees that had been used to reform dysfunctional police departments.

A week and a half ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, assailed the black ESPN journalist Jemele Hill for referring to Trump on Twitter as an “ignorant white supremacist.” She asserted that Hill’s tweets were a “fireable offense.” Several days later, Trump attacked the sports network on Twitter and demanded that it “apologize for untruth.” After Trump rescinded his White House invitation to the Golden State Warriors, Hill tweeted, “Hey @stephencurry30, welcome to the club, bro.” LeBron James tweeted that Trump was a “bum”— which inspired criticism that he had crossed a line. (James was, it should be noted, considerably kinder than Louis Armstrong might have been.) The club of Trump dissidents grew larger on Sunday, when dozens of players from the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars took a knee, and Shad Khan, the owner of the Jaguars, locked arms with players and coaches who remained standing during the national anthem. All but one of the Pittsburgh Steelers opted to remain in their locker room during the playing of the national anthem ahead of their game against the Chicago Bears. Both the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans decided to do the same for their game. If Trump’s intention was to stigmatize such displays, his words have had the opposite effect. He is perhaps the greatest example of the law of unintended consequences this side of the Darwin Awards.

Amid Trump’s nuclear brinksmanship and social-media provocation toward North Korea, amid the swollen gorges of water streaming through Puerto Rico, amid the craven and indefensible attempts to gut health care, amid the slower-moving crises of voting access, economic inequality, and climate change—amid all these things, Trump yet again found a novel way to diminish the nation he purportedly leads. He has authored danger in more ways than there are novel ways to denounce it. This is his singular genius. When this moment has elapsed, when some inevitably unsatisfactory punctuation has concluded the Trump era, we will be left with an infinitude of questions. But Trump, we will assuredly understand, is a small man with a fetish for the symbols of democracy and a bottomless hostility for the actual practice of it.

In the Race for County Legislator Wisdom Must Reign

George F. Nicholas

                 George F. Nicholas

                 George F. Nicholas

From the beginning of our enslavement and captivity in America, the oppressor has always sought to separate the youth from the wisdom of the elders. They understood the strength and vigor of our youth would be ineffective against an organized plan of attack. The youth would have the strength but it was the elders that would possess the knowledge of what to do with that strength. This cynical pattern of separating the wisdom of the elders from the strength of the youth has been an effective strategy of controlling the African-American community for generations. The transfer of community leadership often disintegrates into a hostile takeover of enthusiastic but impatient future leaders who want to drive even before they understand how the vehicle works. This is most clearly seen in our political process where leaders labor for generations gaining power and seniority only to be taken out by a new wave of leaders who figure it is their time.

There is no peaceful transfer of knowledge gained on the liberation battlefield that would empower the next generation to be more effective than the past. On the contrary “new” leaders will look to the oppressor for resources, direction and affirmation. This is extremely dangerous because the oppressor has different goals that those who have been historically oppressed. That it is why historically organizations like the Erie County Democratic party seemingly take an interest in supporting what they would call “new blood,” in the quest of identifying the next wave of Black political leadership. Political novices unknowingly find themselves caught in the game of "politricks" that causes great harm to the community. These political neophytes are good people with a sincere willingness to help the community but they are woefully ignorant of the treachery of a political system that wants Black political leaders to embrace an agenda that does not put the condition of Black people as its primary focus.

This year Buffalo has a great opportunity to break that trend by going against the political establishment and electing Charley Fisher to the Erie County Legislature in the 2nd district. For full disclosure Mr. Fisher is a member of my congregation and I have called him a friend for 40 years. However, I pray that you will understand my support for him is something more important than friendship, but a sincere concern about the direction of the Black community. This election is a referendum of who chooses Black political leadership, the people or Erie County Democratic party bosses who care little about the condition of the Black community. Mr. Fisher is a man whose track record is well documented. He has faithfully served the community through various roles of leadership, including the B.U.I.L.D organization, as well as serving as Council Member at-large for many years. In addition he served under Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve and Erie Country Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

Candidate Charlie Fisher III

Candidate Charlie Fisher III

We all remember him lying courageously and uncompromisingly in front of garbage truck to demand equal treatment for his community. He possesses wisdom that does not come from reading books and going to conferences; his wisdom comes from years of experience of serving the Black community. We are living in some of the most challenging times the African-American community has ever faced in this region. In spite of the $19 billion investment in the renaissances of the region the African-American community still suffers from increased poverty, dramatic health disparities, double digit unemployment, youth violence and no discernible vision to bring revitalization to a community that has been neglected for a generation.

Mr. Fisher is a man who has the wisdom to provide the necessary leadership to empower our community by demanding its fair share from the political and economic elite who have abandoned the Black community. In these times of open political hostility against people of color, we need a fearless leader who is battle tested and battle ready. From day one when Mr. Fisher is seated in the Erie County Legislature he will be ready to push legislation, challenge budget allocations and work with all levels of government to increase the quality of life for his constituents. His record and experience makes this choice easy in selecting who is most qualified to represent the 2nd district.

So one must ask themselves why the Erie County Democratic party did not even entertain supporting a person with his vast experience and knowledge? Remember he has been a faithful registered democrat, voting in every election and primary for the last 40 years. What are they and other political leaders afraid of? They fear the wise elder who understands their game and is not willing to rubber stamp their agenda. So look at this election with eyes wide open and understand that wisdom shaped by experience is what is needed in these times.

'Paying To Play' Politics And Redevelopment On Jefferson Avenue

    Betty Jean Grant

    Betty Jean Grant

A few months ago, there was a well attended meeting at the Jefferson Avenue Frank E. Merriweather Library. The meeting was scheduled by the Brown Administration to talk about the pending redevelopment of the street. What was so striking was the fact that the people who convened the meeting did not come there to listen to what the community had in mind for the street. No, they came armed with a plan and a developer or two, with a chief partner in the venture that, still to this day, no one knows who put the 'plan' together.

In the audience but certainly not to answer questions put forth by community members, was Nick Sinatra, a fast-rising city hall-favorite developer and his partner, David Pawlik from CSS Development Company along with a somewhat unfamiliar name to the redevelopment scene, Dr. Gregory Daniels from Amherst, New York. For those who are interested, Dr. Daniels is an African American who thought up the concept of emergent care while he worked as a doctor in one of the city's emergency rooms. He opened several of them in the area, sold them for millions of dollars and until now, resided quietly in his beautiful home, heated entirely by solar energy, in the suburbs.

During the meeting, a brilliant, young activist and founder of the Young Black Democrats political organization, Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, asked one of the developers about bringing the concept of a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) to the project that was being discussed. Just for the record, a CBA is a legally binding contract negotiated between a developer and a coalition representing broad spectrum of community members impacted by the development. In exchange for community members' support for the project, the developer agrees to provide certain benefits.

The agreement can be anything from the developer agreeing to installing a neighborhood playground, building a community center to setting aside several apartments in the complex to accommodate low income, disabled or senior citizens' housing needs at a modest discounted rental rate. These types of deals for struggling communities are being put together all across this country by many progressive community leaders and elected officials. Most communities, that is, except for Buffalo. Even though this kind of community friendly agreement has been done in Buffalo, in the past, it seems none of our current leaders are holding the developers accountable and arranging these type of win-win deals for our residents.

I have to ask Ms. Bordeaux again but I believe she told me that she did not get much of an assurance said that the developer would consider this type of Community-minded agreement once they began construction of the Wellness Center the three gentlemen are proposing for the Jefferson/Riley Avenue section of the city later this year. What made me think of this particular meeting was when the campaign financial disclosure statement of the mayoral candidates were made public in last week's copy of a local, daily newspaper.

This is all public information and I have no qualms about detailing it here in this newspaper. In the information filed for the period of Jan 15 to July 15, 2017, the three partners of the new Wellness Center, contributed over $9,900 to Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign war chest. Nick Sinatra gave $2,000; David Pawlik from CSS Development contributed $2,500 and the already wealthy Amherst doctor, Dr. Gregory Daniels, chipped in $7,400! This may be only $9.900 from a trio of rich men, but these same rich men will be getting tax abatements and incentives totaling tens of thousands of dollars for this one project alone! And guess who will be making up the shortfall in the city and county's coffers from this generous redistribution of poor people's HUD monies and lucrative incentives? You guessed it correctly if you say, "We, the taxpayers of Buffalo and Erie County." I am all for redevelopment and the rehabilitation of poor and blighted areas of the city but, for heavens sake, can millionaires and billionaires invest their own personal monies on these projects once in a while?

Why Are We Afraid To Say the 'G' (Gentrification) Word?

       Betty Jean Grant

       Betty Jean Grant

Ten years ago, most people on the Eastside did not know what the word Gentrification meant. I am willing to bet you that is not the case today. Even when former President Bill Clinton moved his office to Harlem, thereby fast speeding the disinvestment of African Americans in their own part of New York City, we knew something new and unique was happening but no one in our part of Buffalo had a public name for it. All we knew was that record stores, bookstores, newsstands , deli stores and small novelty shops that had been in the same family for several generations were suddenly being closed due to loss of property to foreclosure or non payment of city taxes or the sky high rent that the buildings owners were now charging. That was gentrification but those of us here in Buffalo not only didn't know what the word meant without looking it up; we also had a difficult time pronouncing it.

Harlem, New York City, has now been joined by Baltimore, Detroit,  Portland, Washington, D.C., The Bronx and now, Buffalo as places where the long tenured tenants of the city are being displaced by rental units that are too d... high; prospective increase in theirhomeowner's property tax appraisal; or the bombardment of daily letters, phone calls and visits by real estate agents to sell their houses or vacant lots. those agencies that manage the Section 8 vouchers program are playing into this mass relocation project the city is engaged in and, for years, has been a silent partner. In the 1990s, if an applicant that lived in Buffalo was way down on the list and possibly years away from being processed, this applicant would be given a priority status and be moved to the top, if he/she would agree to rent a subsidized apartmentin a nearby suburban town, city of village. The official thought behind this movement was to integrate the outlying area with a diversified rental population. I remain convinced that those who thought of moving the special group of Section 8 applicants to the top of the list was thinking about decreasing Buffalo's minority population more than they were worrying about if the suburban or rural residents had a Person of Color living next door to the locals. Fact is, I heard that the BMHA's Perry Project lost a significant amount federal grant money by not being selected for the funds because they stated explicitly, in their application, that they were motivated to 'decrease the number of low income and minority residents that resided in their housing units. The fact that a large number of individuals working on the grant that sought to discriminate against minorities and poor people were African Americans was troubling at best and possibly an illegal act.

So how does a city speed up the process of gentrification? Well, if the city is Buffalo, they put a Plan in action that was developed about 30 or 40 years ago. They allow high paying factory jobs at places like Bethlehem Steel to leave the area by not giving tax concessions and abatement when the company was struggling financially. The NYS politicians and Buffalo city leaders didn't put additional money into the education system by increasing the allocation to the Buffalo Public Schools. The Board of Education and the Superintendent closed most of the vocational high school that gave generations of Buffalo youths a skill or trade when they graduated from high school. The city failed to replace the hundreds of jobs lost to our young Black men when the Deli stores went from black-owned to Arab-owned and our youth went from working inside these stores to hanging out side, on the street corners of those very same stores. Law enforcement turn 'blind eyes' and 'deaf ears' to the parents' cries of finding out were the drugs and guns were coming from and stopping them from coming into our community. Social Services agencies took the parents' rights to discipline their children away and then charge these parents with neglect or abuse for not controlling their unruly or disobedient children.

Buffalo is experiencing a renaissance of sort in the Fruitbelt, Medical Corridor, Canalside and the total renovation of Niagara Street and yet people were tripping on broken sidewalks in the beloved MLK Park, on the Eastside, during the past Juneteenth Celebration. Jefferson Ave and other east and lower west side streets look like they have been caught in a bad and recurring episode of the Twilight Zone, where there are people and stores but the city leaders and the people that don't live or shop there cannot see the devastation, despair and neglect.

Gentrification is defined in the dictionary as- "The process of renewal accompanying the influx of middle- class people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier, usually poorer residents."

 To the poor and low income residents, concerned community activists and those elected, public Officials who really care ; gentrification has come to Buffalo. And, for those of us who stayed during the tough and struggling times, we are now no longer wanted or needed; we have become expendable.