Reparations: a philosophical exploration

Photo: MGN.

This article first published 2/3/21 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

On a late spring evening in 1918, a 19-year-old Black sharecropper named Sydney Johnson fatally shot the White plantation owner who had beaten him and refused to pay him for a week’s work. The planter, Hampton Smith, was known in South Georgia for bailing African Americans out of jail and having them work off what they owed on his plantation, a system of debt peonage that was common at the time.

Upon discovering Smith’s murder, authorities in Brooks County organized a dragnet, rounded up several of Smith’s employees—and even a few African Americans who were incarcerated in the county jail at the time—and lynched them.

One of those killed was Hayes Turner, whose 33-year-old wife Mary was eight months pregnant at the time. She denied that her husband had anything to do with Smith’s murder and threatened to file criminal charges against the mob’s ringleaders. One local newspaper would later write that “the people in their indignant mood took exceptions to her remarks as well as her attitude.”

Turner fled after getting wind of rumors that she was in imminent danger, but the mob caught up with her, dragged her to the Folsom Bridge overlooking the Little River, tied her ankles together, strung her upside down, doused her clothes in gasoline, and set her on fire. While she was still alive, a man split open her stomach with a long knife used to butcher hogs, causing her fetus to plunge to the ground.

On impact, the infant cried out before the quick, forceful stomp of a man’s boot ended its cries and its life in one fell swoop. Mary Turner’s corpse was riddled with hundreds of bullets and later that night, her remains and that of her baby were buried a few feet away from where they were slain.

The coronavirus pandemic and shrinking economy widening longstanding racial disparities in wealth and health that provide further justification for financial recourse to be taken.

For all of its shock and awe, however, the horrific slaughter of a Black Madonna and child doesn’t help explain why the U.S. owes 42 million African Americans recompense or reparations.  However, this does: three days after Mary Hayes’ murder, Hampton Smith’s real killer, Sydney Johnson, was cornered and killed in a shootout with police, culminating a weeklong rampage that left at least 13 Blacks dead and compelled another 500 to flee from the area near the Florida border, abandoning scores of parcels of arable farmland that were quickly snatched up by Whites.

This land grab shines a light on a system that has come to be known as racial capitalism and is also enormously useful as a kind of feasibility study for reparations. Communications technology regularly provide ample evidence of White lust for Black blood—including last year’s fatal shooting of an unarmed Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery by White vigilantes just 120 miles east of where Mary Turner was hunted down like a wild boar 102 years earlier.

Add the coronavirus pandemic and shrinking economy widening longstanding racial disparities in wealth and health that provide further justification for financial recourse to be taken.

Recently, lawmakers in Minnesota and across the nation have begun to at least entertain the notion of redress to 42 million African Americans who have been viewed by Whites as a source of obscene profits for 400 years and counting.

Yet, of all the details that need to be addressed in devising a workable plan for reparations, perhaps none is as immediate as the question of reparations for what, exactly?

To answer that question, consider that African Americans—who represent 12% of the population—own 1% of all assets in the country, according to Mehrsa Baradaran, author of “The Color of Money; Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.” That figure is virtually unchanged from January 1, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Such a yawning wealth gap can only be contextualized as part of an American kleptocracy or pyramid scheme in which all institutions and businesses—banking, real estate, the criminal justice system, schools, organized labor and the news and entertainment media—have conspired to steal Black capital.

In that vein, reparations are not merely a moral cause but also sound economic policy: the concentration of property in White hands acts as a drag on the economy, reducing buying power and shrinking the consumer demand that the macro-economy relies on to grow.


Photo: Wikipedia. “Mary Turner Historical Marker, Lowndes County, Georgia.”


As one example, the 500 Blacks who fled their homesteads following the Turner lynchings in 1918, depleted the rural economy of customers who would have added to the coffers of commercial enterprises in the area by paying taxes, buying food, seed, cattle and livestock, and clothes.

Similarly, a study published last year by Citigroup found that racial discrimination against African Americans since 2000 has cost the U.S. economy $16 trillion in lost output, equivalent to nearly one year of Gross Domestic Product.

That figure includes $113 billion in lost wages for Black workers unable to obtain a college degree, $218 billion in losses accrued to the real estate market because Blacks were denied home loans, and $13 trillion less in commercial activity because African American entrepreneurs couldn’t access the credit markets.

If those gaps were closed today, Citigroup researchers concluded GDP would grow by $5 trillion, or roughly 25%, over a period of five years.

The most common understanding of reparations, expressed by movements like the American Descendants of Slaves, or ADOS, is of a reparations plan that is altruistic in nature, and limited to cutting native-born Blacks a check.

This misses the point entirely: without ownership of our community, and the means of production, Blacks would merely return their reparations check to Whites in the form of rents, college tuition, health insurance, groceries, utilities, car loans, and taxes, leaving us vulnerable, like the Turners and their neighbors, to predatory schemes such as debt peonage, land annexation, and subprime mortgages.

We need to reimagine reparations as a plan to expand GDP nationwide by sparking the economic development that has systematically been denied Black communities through a cycle of dishonor, death, and dispossession. Rinse and repeat.

This is part one of a series on reparations and what they may look like.

Part II: A Soldier’s Story: A father’s lessons about America’s class war

Photo:  Gladson Xavier on

This article first published 1/29/21 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.  

It was only after my father’s death that I understood the broader political context of his struggle at Chrysler. While the celebrated head of the United Auto Workers Walter Reuther was the only nonblack speaker invited to speak at the 1963 March on Washington, it was later revealed that his union was at that time “negotiating discriminatory union contracts. These contracts locked Black workers in de facto segregated job classifications in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” according to the labor historian Philip Foner.

By 1960, according to data compiled by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Black workers accounted for seven-tenths of one percent of the skilled labor force in Detroit auto plants, yet 42.3% of the entire workforce. In the 1973 documentary, “Finally Got the News,” about the radical League of Revolutionary Black Workers, one White autoworker recalled:

“I took three tests, now one of the math tests I took I didn’t do too well on. The fella who was running the tests said ‘well I tell you what: you go home and study up on this a little bit and come back and see me in a week.’ I know G-d-n well he wasn’t going to tell that to any Colored boy.”

The League of Revolutionary Black Workers was a Marxist-influenced cell formed in the aftermath of Detroit’s 1967 riots. While it did not accept White members, it worked closely with White workers and encouraged them to organize their own so that the proletariat could fight together against the bosses and the Vichy labor leadership at the point of production that was the stronghold of the capitalist system.

[Related Story: Part I: A soldier’s story: A fathers lessons about America’s class war]

A chapter at Polaroid’s Boston headquarters initiated the international Boycott and Sanctions movement that led ultimately to Apartheid South Africa’s downfall. To the best of my knowledge, there was no League chapter in Indianapolis but my father certainly shared in the organization’s objectives, which was, primarily, the abolition of a political economy that exploited workers of all races.

The UAW and the Big Three automakers conspired to undermine the League as part of a broader effort to unspool the interracial coalitions that emerged in the New Deal and had, by the time of my father’s gas station confrontation, reduced poverty to historic lows, and the wealthiest 1 percent’s slice of the national pie to its smallest share ever.

In one revealing statement, Reuther boasted of the UAW: “We make collective bargaining agreements not revolutions.”

My fondest memory of my father was his laugh—loud and free like a runaway train—and few things amused him more than Earl Butz, the Ford administration’s Agriculture Secretary. When the singer Pat Boone asked Butz what the GOP could do to attract more Black voters, Butz, a corporatist who opposed food stamps and the school lunch program tried to discredit Black political leadership such as that exemplified by the League.

Parroting the White supremacists who invented a ring of Black rapists to turn public sentiment against a populist, bi-racial political movement that had lifted living standards for the bulk of North Carolina’s working class in 1898, Butz replied: “The only thing the Coloreds are looking for in life are tight —, loose shoes and a warm place to s.”

My father would howl with laughter at any mention of Butz’s name and as a child, I thought my old man was laughing at his caricature. He wasn’t. He was laughing at Butz’s pathetic and clumsy effort to implode the class consciousness at the heart of workers’ growing prosperity.

As the Black Panthers were known to say, my father did not hate White people, he hated the oppressor. He loathed class enemies such as Oprah and Clarence Thomas and Indianapolis’ neoliberal Black school superintendent got along with my Jewish pediatrician like a house afire, and when Ted Kennedy visited Indianapolis during the 1980 Democratic primaries, my father volunteered to pick him up from the airport.

At my dad’s repast, my brother’s White father-in-law Dave approached me in the parking lot, grabbed my hand with such force I thought he might crush it, peered me straight in my eye, and said: “Your dad was a great man, Jon.”

It occurred to me that while my father and Dave had not worked together, they were both blue-collar workers in a Rust-Belt city at roughly the same time, and as a result, they recognized in one another an ally in the fight against the bosses. I never saw a tense moment between the two at family gatherings and none of my siblings can recall my father ever uttering a negative word about Dave.

Since my father died nearly a decade ago, his birthday has triggered for me a month-long period of mourning that typically dissipates in the days after the anniversary of his death on January 15.

But his life is particularly salient today as pundits like Matt Taibi, Jacobin’s founder, Bhaskar Sunkara, the New Yorker’s Nicholas Lemann, the intellectual, Adolph Reed and others gaslight the role that White racism has played in America’s decline, and instead put the onus on African American aggrievement that they conflate, mistakenly, with identity politics, and describe, absurdly, as polarizing.

If we’re to move past this crisis of capitalism, the American Left needs to understand that it was White people, not Blacks who created identity politics to help put down a movement led by Black workers who overwhelmingly favored universal policies such as full employment, guaranteed national income, single-payer health care, progressive taxes, community schools, affordable college tuition, worker-owned cooperatives, environmental remediation, and workplace democracy.

The Johnson and Nixon administrations were the most forceful proponents of affirmative action and conservative Black Democrats like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris are the product of Wall Street and Democratic Party apparatchiks, not the Black community writ large.

Hence, the African American working class is blameless for what has befallen the nation. Or, as the slain Black activist George Jackson once wrote: The major obstacle to a united left in this country is White racism.”

Jon Jeter is a professional journalist, commentary writer and social media commentator who has served stints at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Washington Post among others. This is part II of a two-part essay.

Part I: A soldier’s story: A fathers lessons about America’s class war

Photo: F. Muhammad from Pixabay

This article first published 1/4/21 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

What I remember is my father pumping gasoline at an Indianapolis gas station while I waited in the car with my mother and two brothers. It was, as I recall, a summer weekend in the bicentennial year, 1976, and from the car’s back seat, I watched as my father and the cashier, a White woman, began to argue.

He accused the woman of cheating him out of the change he was owed; the cashier insisted that he had given her a $10 bill rather than the $20 my father said he’d handed her. In my mind’s scrapbook, I can see plumes of smoke billowing from my dad’s blue-black forehead as he flew into a rage, swearing and pointing his finger at the attendant who was behind the glass booth.

“Sir, I am going to have to call the police,” I remember her saying over the loudspeaker. “ Go ‘head,” my father said defiantly. “I’ll be right he- ah.”

When the police officer arrived a few minutes later, the woman told her story, my father his. The officer, also White, unsurprisingly chose the cashier’s version of events. Towering over my father, the police officer extended his hand to return the change that the cashier said he was owed from the $10.

“**** your change, peckerwood,” my father said, simultaneously slapping the change from the officer’s hand. I remember the hollow sound of the coins pelting the concrete like tin rain, and watching the officer place his hand on the holster as though reaching for his gun.

From the car’s passenger seat, my mother intervened, convincing her husband that this was not a hill worth dying on. “Cecil,” she said, “C’mon. Let’s go. ”

Born 89 years ago today to the son of a slave, Cecil Nathaniel Jeter did not suffer fools gladly as the saying goes. Yet to fully grasp the dire circumstances facing a nation in post-industrial free fall, you’d do well to consider that what inspired my old man’s rage on an afternoon 45 years ago was not some blanket loathing of White people, but rather his profound understanding of class struggle and the role that racism plays in undermining proletarian solidarity.

My father was far from perfect: he let bitterness get the best of him at times, lost years to the bottle, and often unfairly blamed my mother for his own shortcomings. But despite only a high school education, he was a voracious reader and the first class warrior I ever knew. Even to this daynearly 10 years after his deathhis ferocity, brilliance, and humanity continue to shine on me, like the warmth from a thousand suns.

My dad undoubtedly viewed the White gas station attendant and the police officer as traitors to their class, no better than marionettes on a string, manipulated by the oligarchs to fight a proxy war against their coworkers rather than challenge their common enemy: the bosses.

“They do not want the White man and the Black man to get together,” he would often say to me, like a mantra, long before I could fathom the full weight of what he was saying.

“Daddy was my first lesson in the way the American system works,” said my sister, Karen, now  63. “He would always say that the White man and the Black man are like two rabbits chasing after a dollar bill and in the midst of chasing that dollar bill they start fighting each other. That’s why we never get anywhere.”

Roughly six months after the gas station incident, on February 8, 1977, a 44-year old man of Greek descent Anthony Kiritsis walked into the office of his Indianapolis mortgage broker, and wired the muzzle of a shotgun to the back of the lender’s head. Much of the hostage standoff was broadcast live on television and while I don’t recall my father exhorting Kiritsis to murder his hostage, his sympathies clearly were with the blue-collar borrower whose exploitation by the financier underscored America’s kleptocracy.

The old man always sided with the underdog. We were at that off-brand gas station in 1976 because my father refused to buy gasoline from Shell Oil which supported South Africa’s barbaric, apartheid government.

Writing to my mother in 1956 when he was a serviceman in the Korean War, he described his commanding officer disciplining him for asking why the U.S. was always picking fights with people who’d done nothing to us. “So today, I’m cleaning the latrines,” he wrote.

His father, James Jeter, was born in Union, South Carolina, in 1884, two years before state lawmakers prohibited Blacks from entering into collective bargaining agreements and created a militia solely to suppress labor organizing. Undoubtedly fleeing the racial terror that followed, my grandfather was part of the Great Migration’s first wave, arriving in Indianapolis sometime before World War I.

When I was an adolescent, my father would shuttle me to a prewar gymnasium to play pickup basketball, and if we made that trip two dozen times, I swear he told me the same story 24 times, each time apparently oblivious of the previous trip, as though he was in a trance.

When he was a child of maybe eleven or twelve, he had tried to play there, walking the nearly two miles from his family’s shotgun house to the gymnasium, only to be turned away by a White man not long after he had walked inside and began shooting baskets with the other boys, all of them White. As he trudged back home in the heat of a summer day, a few of the White boys who had seen him at the gym doused him in a bucket of piss as they whizzed by him in a pickup truck.

When my father returned home from the war, he bounced around from job to job before catching on in 1965 at Chrysler where he quickly decided that he wanted no part of the backbreaking assembly lines and the dangerous speed-ups. He enrolled in training courses that would enable him to eventually become the plant’s first African American skilled tradesman, after first being denied a promotion despite scoring the highest on a qualifying examination.

When he inquired about the promotion, my father recalled the White foreman’s response thusly: “Now Jeter, if I promote a nigger, we’ll both be fired.”

But he persisted, and I was never so proud to be my father’s son than at his wake on a snowy, January day in 2011 when several of his Black coworkers told me that he was always encouraging them to enroll in the training courses for promotion to the higher-paying, less strenuous and safer skilled-trade positions like the one he held.

Jon Jeter is a professional journalist, commentary writer and social media commentator who has served stints at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Washington Post among others. This is part I of a two-part essay.

The Plan

This story first aired on the NPR Radio show This American Life on February 29, 2008 as Act Two of Human Resources:

American cities have gone through a massive wave of gentrification in the last few decades. To some people, it’s not a natural ebb and flow of the real estate market, but a plot, by rich, mainly white people, to take over the neighborhoods of poor, mainly black people. This American Life producer Jon Jeter reports on how, in neighborhoods all over the country, the plot has a name, “The Plan,” and most people you talk to know about it. (11 minutes)


Killings of Arbery and Martin tragically similar

Photo: MGN

This article first published 6/4/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Will the outcomes prove similar as well?

News Analysis

As the preliminary hearing gets underway in Georgia for Travis McMichael, Greg McMichael and William Bryan in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, it has not gone unnoticed that the fatal shooting of Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger in February by two White men, bears a striking resemblance to another slaying eight years ago—that of Trayvon Martin.

Both the 17-year-old Martin and the 25-year-old Arbery were accosted by self-appointed White vigilantes who shot them at point-blank range after a scuffle. In both cases, prosecutors initially declined to prosecute and charges were filed only after weeks of sustained pressure from the Black communities in both Deep South states.

In the Arbery case, charges were brought against the McMichaels only following protests and the release of a gruesome cellphone video that depicts a clearly unarmed Arbery merely jogging down a neighborhood street in the city of Brunswick in the southeastern part of the state.

No attorney would’ve called the State’s case against George Zimmerman for murdering an unarmed teenager “airtight.” But prosecutors were so ineffective in the 2013 trial that it left more than a few trial lawyers and legal scholars wondering aloud whether the prosecution didn’t intentionally lose the case.

In a 2016 law review article, Boston College law professor Mark Brodin wrote that prosecutors in Florida bungled the Trayvon Martin case by “committing the most inexplicable strategic and evidentiary blunders of a type that experienced prosecutors would very likely not commit in a more earnest effort to convict.”

Of the prosecution’s many missteps, Brodin wrote that the most damning might’ve been the failure to “to convey to the trial jury this simple narrative of racial profiling and stalking by a vigilante not acting under color of law.”

Calling the trial an “homage to racial vigilantism,” Mark K. Spencer, a former deputy state’s attorney in the Washington D.C. suburbs, concurred with Brodin’s assessment of the prosecution’s failure. “The Trayvon Martin case represented one of the gravest miscarriages of justice I’ve ever seen,” he said.

The default position of the criminal justice system, according to Brodin and many other attorneys, is to reflexively protect the killers of Black males, particularly if they are law enforcement officers or their surrogates. This raises a profound question as the state of Georgia prepares to try the McMichaels: Are prosecutors in it to win?

In an email to the Spokesman-Recorder, Brodin wrote: “This ‘playing to lose’ strategy is a theme that runs through many ‘prosecutions’ of White police or vigilantes who have killed Black men. As you know, there are structural and institutional barriers that interfere when police officers commit crimes, as they are viewed as part of the ‘law enforcement team’ by prosecutors.

“And then systemic racism (tainting judge and jurors) often raises its ugly face at the trial when it’s a White cop and Black victim. Thankfully we have a few progressive prosecutors (Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn) who are starting to fight the influence of race and class in our criminal justice system, but they are clearly the exceptions.

“The result has been a greenlighting of gross police misconduct across the nation.”

Zimmerman was, of course, only a police “wannabe” although he was friendly with patrol officers in the community. The elder McMichael, on the other hand, was a retired officer who had worked as an investigator with the local prosecutor’s office.

The Thin Blue Line

The video of the assault on Arbery is damning but it is not, in and of itself, enough to win a conviction, explained Spencer, who presently serves as inspector general for the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department. The often cozy relationship between prosecutors and police tilts the playing field in favor of law enforcement, he said.

During his early days as a prosecutor nearly 30 years ago, he said it was not uncommon for the prosecutors to encourage defendants to sign a waiver absolving police officers of any liability for the use of excessive force or other misconduct.

“The challenges with accountability for potential acts of police misconduct were, are, and will always be problematic because of the structure of our justice system,” Spencer said. “In my experience most prosecutors avoid being assigned police accountability cases because there has been little reward in pursuing them. The cases are always difficult to assess and present because each of the working parts involves many sometimes interlocking relationships.”

He continued, “Imagine prosecuting a case where the police are the principle or only source of evidence. The police were the first responders to a crime scene or complaint. The police control the crime scene and the quality and quantity of evidence that is collected.

“And the police are potentially the principal witnesses or sole witnesses to an event that may have included police misconduct. Trying to pierce the ‘Thin Blue Line’ is mostly a daunting task.”

The Martin case is by no means unique. When the Bronx district attorney in 2000 failed to procure a conviction against four New York City police officers for the fusillade of gunfire that killed an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, some immediately questioned whether the State intentionally undermined its case to shore up support for the City’s aggressive police tactics.

One African American juror, Lavette Freeman, told reporters at the time that she understood the protests that followed the verdict, but jurors felt they had no choice but to acquit. ”I have to take it back to the district attorney’s office. They didn’t give me anything. Nothing.”

Another complication in the case against the McMichaels will undoubtedly be the state’s “Stand Your Ground” statute, which was cited by the original prosecutor in the case, George Barnhill, in declining to pursue charges.

Stand Your Ground effectively overturns a legal principle dating back to 17th century British common law requiring that a claimant demonstrate a defensive posture before using lethal force. The Castle Doctrine, however — a man’s home is his castle — provides an exemption in the case of an intruder or burglar.

Stand Your Ground laws expand the legal justification for lethal self-defense and give prosecutors broad discretion to apply the law. While Zimmerman’s lawyers did not rely on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in their defense, jurors in Martin’s murder trial were instructed to consider the law in their deliberations. “Trayvon Martin was betrayed by the entire American legal community,” decried Spencer.

Healthcare industry bias portends trouble for Blacks during pandemic

Photo: MGN

This article first published 4/24/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

University of Miami Health System physician Armen Henderson was loading supplies into his van recently, preparing to test the city’s homeless population for the coronavirus under an I-95 overpass, when suddenly a City of Miami police officer pulled up behind him.

From his patrol car, the uniformed officer began to innocuously question Henderson, who is Black. Henderson described the encounter like this: “He [the officer] just said, ‘Are you littering over here? Do you live here? Do you work here?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I live here. This is where we put our bulky trash and the City comes to pick it up every week at this same place.”


Photo courtesy Dr. Armen Henderson. “Dr. Armen Henderson being handcuffed”

Suddenly, the encounter turned sinister, Henderson said. The officer jumped from the car “and started yelling, ‘You call me sir or sergeant when I’m talking to you.’ I never said I was a doctor. But I didn’t cuss,” Henderson told the MSR. “He just grabbed my arms and cuffed me.”

Henderson said when the officer started to handcuff him he called for his wife to bring him his ID. A video of the incident taken by the couple’s home security cameras shows Henderson’s wife exiting the house moments later with what appears to be a driver’s license.

The video shows the officer releasing Henderson from handcuffs several moments later. The video has been viewed over seven million times on various social media forums.

“He just got in his car and drove away,” Henderson told the MSR, “without apologizing.” The confrontation between the two men on the last Saturday in March helps to explain why the coronavirus pandemic is nearly twice as deadly for Blacks and Latinos as it is for Whites. There are, in point of fact, two scourges for two Americas—one biological, one man-made.

While Whites need only concern themselves with the first, People of Color generally, and 42 million African Americans especially are tasked with surviving the worst global pandemic in a century. They must do so with no more material resources than their ancestors owned on New Years’ Day in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

What this means is that the same racist attitudes that compel law-enforcement officers to terrorize Blacks in the streets are often shared by some medical professionals who treat African American patients with a cold indifference.

A recent study by the American Bar Association concluded that, aside from wide racial disparities in access to health care, “Black people simply are not receiving the same quality of health care that their White counterparts are receiving.”

The ABA continued, “For example, one study of 400 hospitals in the United States showed that Black patients with heart disease received older, cheaper, and more conservative treatments than their White counterparts. Black patients were less likely to receive coronary bypass operations and angiography. After surgery, they are discharged earlier from the hospital than White patients—at a stage when discharge is inappropriate.

“The same goes for other illnesses. Black women are less likely than White women to receive radiation therapy in conjunction with a mastectomy. In fact, they are less likely to receive mastectomies. Perhaps more disturbing is that Black patients are more likely to receive less desirable treatments.

“The rates at which Black patients have their limbs amputated is higher than those for White patients. Additionally, Black patients suffering from bipolar disorder are more likely to be treated with antipsychotics despite evidence that these medications have long-term negative effects and are not effective.”

Henderson said that only four percent of licensed physicians nationwide are Black, meaning that on top of the litany of cradle-to-grave disadvantages that help to weaken African Americans’ immune systems—from living in food deserts and atop environmental dump sites, to the proliferation of water and utility shutoffs, to homelessness, to prison overcrowding, to high-stress levels—Blacks are often treated by doctors who share the same racial biases as the police officer who handcuffed him.

Studies have shown that the affluent are tested for the virus at a rate that is far higher than low-income people; as evidence, Henderson noted that a testing site in Miami’s historically Black neighborhood of Liberty City opened only three weeks ago.

Moreover, he said, he’s heard of doctors charging Black patients in South Florida as much as $200 for the $40 test. “I can definitely see bias creeping into decisions about who gets ventilators and who gets [do not resuscitate].”

People are testing positive and getting sent home, and how can you quarantine when you live in a [crowded] two-bedroom apartment? There is no protocol, and if there is no protocol, doctors can do what they want. I definitely think that unconscious bias is playing a role in the way that things are happening the way they are.”

Submitted photo [MSR]. “Dr. Armen Henderson”


These disparities are part of the reason that Henderson and activists with the nonprofit groups Dream Defenders and Showering Love began an outreach effort in the city’s Overtown neighborhood at the beginning of March. “We’ve been out there once or twice a week handing out tents, toiletries, masks, socks,” he said.

“We’ve been testing individuals for COVID-19 because it’s the most vulnerable population. If you want to control the spread, you have to go right to the source and take care of these individuals first.”

The 35-year-old Henderson grew up in a hardscrabble neighborhood of North Philadelphia. He was first introduced to racism in medicine when the White dean of a prominent Ivy League medical school advised him to consider a career as a nurse rather than as a doctor, despite the fact that he had a 3.8 GPA and had participated in three clinical trials as a researcher.

Studies have shown that doctors’ racial attitudes color much of the disparate health outcomes for Blacks, resulting, as one example, in a tendency to under-prescribe pain medicine for Blacks because of the myth that they have a higher tolerance for pain and higher rates of addictions. Whites, on the other hand, are more likely to be over-prescribed.

“I’m not saying it’s all doctors, but we know that these biases are passed down from one generation to the next,” Henderson said.
Racial bias, combined with a failed market-based approach to health care, is simply ravaging Black America.

Six years ago, Eric Garner’s final gasping words while trying to fend off a police chokehold, “I can’t breathe” came to symbolize the asphyxiation of African Americans’ dreams for a better life.

Similarly symbolic is a coronavirus patients’ breathless question earlier this month as a New York city nurse anesthetist connected him to a ventilator: “Who’s going to pay for this?”

Bloomberg’s Democratic opponents live in glass houses

Photo: MGN

This article first published 3/2/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Had they been battle rappers rather than Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would almost certainly have been booed off the stage in the Nevada debate, excoriated by his peers for among other things, his administration’s “stop-and-frisk” policy that terrorized Gotham’s Blacks and Latinos.

In his first debate, the billionaire publisher offered the most tepid and unconvincing responses to the withering assault, defending stop-and-frisk as a sound law-enforcement policy “but it got out of control.” I lived in New York for Bloomberg’s final two terms in office and witnessed Manhattan’s biblical transformation, from a hive of tribal energy and cultural expression into the world’s largest gated community that is hostile to the working class generally, and people of color specifically.

Yet while I am loath to give Mad Mike any useful advice, I do think that he should return fire next time by borrowing a page, perhaps, from Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination.

Here is how he might more effectively respond to criticisms on his law-enforcement policies leveled by his Democratic rivals:

“Was stop-and-frisk a racist policy that unfairly, and unconstitutionally brutalized Black and Brown men in New York City? Of course it was and we all know it. But who on this stage wants to cast the first stone from their glass encampment? Joe Biden, who got his start in national politics by railing against integrated schools, and who authored the draconian 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that has done more to swell the nation’s prison population than any single piece of legislation in American history?

Surely not Senator Klobuchar, who as the top prosecutor in Minneapolis sent a Black teenager to jail for life for the accidental killing of an 11-year-old girl. There was, according to the Associated Press, “no gun, fingerprints, or DNA. Alibis were never seriously pursued. Key evidence has gone missing or was never obtained, including a convenience store surveillance tape that . . . (some) say would have cleared him.”

And I am sure the Black residents of South Bend, Indiana would find Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s reproach of me for racial insensitivity curious, given his firing of a popular African American police chief and his support for a White sergeant in his police department who fatally shot an unarmed 54-year old Black man.

Call me a cynic, but I think it odd that I would be singled out for my brutalization of Blacks in a country that has routinely brutalized Blacks for 400 years, by a party that has doubled down on its “get-tough-on-crime” mantra since Bill Clinton won the White House 27 years ago in an effort to woo White voters enthralled with Ronald Reagan’s articulation of White supremacy.

And for anyone in our audience who thinks I am lying, ask yourself this: my last two terms as mayor coincided roughly with the Obama administration’s two terms in office; if everyone was so concerned with my mistreatment of African Americans, why didn’t Vice President Biden and his boss instruct their Justice Department to intervene?”

At issue here is not Bloomberg’s innocence, but White guilt that stretches back to chattel slavery, and a fear as old as the Republic of the fire next time. The historian John Hope Franklin wrote:

“Even before the war, White Southerners had frequently entertained a wild nightmarish fear that the slaves would rise up, slay them, and overthrow the institution of slavery. It had happened in Haiti. Perhaps it would happen here. In 1865, Southern Whites “knew” that there was nothing to hold back the tide. Wild rumors flashed through the South that the freedmen would strike in vengeance. Some Whites were even certain of the date. It would be New Year’s Day 1866, they said. How could they keep their minds on rebuilding when their former slaves were poised to complete the destruction?”

The custodian of White anxiety is the criminal justice system, which is designed and upgraded to mete out maximum punishment to Blacks while affording maximum protection to Whites. Consider the proliferation of so-called Stand Your Ground Laws that began to criss-cross the country at almost exactly the same time that Blomberg was ratcheting up “stop-and-frisk”

Since 2006, 33 states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are based on a 400-year old British common law requiring a claimant to demonstrate a defensive posture before using lethal force dating back to the early 1600s. The Castle Doctrine, however—a man’s home is his castle—provides an exemption in the case of an intruder or burglar.

“Stand Your Ground” laws nonsensically expand the legal justification for lethal self-defense and in giving prosecutors broad discretion, the law grants Whites a license to kill an unarmed Black or Brown man if they feel threatened. For all practical purposes, the consequence for killing an unarmed African American in Florida is often less than that for killing a beaver in Maine.

In fact, in fending off his rivals, perhaps Bloomberg should execute the first “mic drop” in presidential debate history, and walk off the stage after concluding with a line often attributed to Oscar Wilde: “All criticism is a form of autobiography.”

Negative reactions to Kobe’s death not as straightforward as they seem

Photo: MGN. “Kobe Bryant”

This article first published 2/13/20 by the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

For everyone within earshot of these virtual disputes over whether Kobe Bryant deserves our mercy in death, do NOT think this is some isolated argument about a celebrity with a checkered past.

It is about the fire next time, and who, exactly is going to be engulfed in flames.

The obvious racial schism in this debate underscores the oligarch’s success in transforming a class war into a race war. History is fairly clear about what comes next: White and Black will reconcile, and we will fight together against our rulers; or Whites will turn on us violently, and America will revert to 1919 or Nazi Germany, or some combination thereof.

Am I saying that all White people must agree with me or with Black people generally? I most assuredly am not. What I am saying is that if White people understood that the ONLY way they will be saved is by collaborating with us as full and equal partners, they would, at the very least, respect our losses and our community as we always have theirs. Their dehumanizing language, contemptuous tone, and binary narratives (“you’re either with us or against us”) tells me that Black people better brace to defend ourselves and party like its 1919 all over again.

I was not a Kobe fan especially. Had Allen Iverson or Dwyane Wade or LeBron died in a helicopter crash, I would likely be beside myself with grief. And I certainly understand anyone who says that they are not mourning a celebrity, with a checkered past, who they did not know. But I remember Kobe’s dad when he played alongside my childhood idol, Dr. J, and I remember how Kobe gave such joy to so many children, Black and White, the way Dr. J did for me. What’s more, I know that at 41, he might well have redeemed himself for the tremendous pain he inflicted on that young woman in a Colorado hotel. His death saddens me, if only because it saddens others, and because he may have contributed great things to this world before all was said and done.

What I don’t understand, however, is the gracelessness of people who cheer his death, the way some cheered him on the court. But for some reason, the White settler needs the Black man, and the Black woman on the stake, like Jesus, suffering, dying, for your sins, for no other reason, I believe, than that it reassures them that no matter how much things change, they will forever be the master, and we will forever be their slaves. For this reason, and only this reason, the laboring classes in America are a defeated people, and will remain so for as long as we walk this earth.

And if you think I am wrong, if you doubt what I am saying is true, then answer this question: would White women who are so outraged by Kobe be so animated, so contemptuous, so hateful, if his victim had been Black?

Jon Jeter is an author, political commentary writer and long-time journalist.

Tell A Story, Shame the Devil: How Pundits, Tweets, and Listicles Destroyed American Journalism

Jon Jeter - Memorial of massacre site at El Mozote, Morazan, El Salvador - Efrojas

The cover story of the December 6th, 1993 issue of the New Yorker was akin to a thunderclap. Written by Mark Danner, the article entitled The Truth of El Mozote is a 22,000-word account of the My Lai-like massacre of nearly 1,000 villagers in the central American country of El Salvador. It begins:

“Heading up into the mountains of Morazán, in the bright, clear air near the Honduran border, you cross the Torola River, the wooden slats of the one-lane bridge clattering beneath your wheels, and enter what was the fiercest of El Salvador’s zonas rojas — or “red zones,” as the military officers knew them during a decade of civil war — and after climbing for some time you take leave of the worn blacktop to follow for several miles a bone-jarring dirt track that hugs a mountainside, and soon you will find, among ruined towns and long-abandoned villages that are coming slowly, painfully back to life, a tiny hamlet, by now little more than a scattering of ruins, that is being rapidly reclaimed by the earth, its broken adobe walls cracking and crumbling and giving way before an onslaught of weeds, which are fuelled by the rain that beats down each afternoon and by the fog that settles heavily at night in the valleys. Nearby, in the long-depopulated villages, you can see stirrings of life: even in Arambala, a mile or so away, with its broad grassy plaza bordered by collapsed buildings and dominated, where once a fine church stood, by a shell-pocked bell tower and a jagged adobe arch looming against the sky — even here, a boy leads a brown cow by a rope, a man in a billed cap and bluejeans trudges along bearing lengths of lumber on his shoulder, three little girls stand on tiptoe at a porch railing, waving and giggling at a passing car.”

But follow the stony dirt track, which turns and twists through the woodland, and in a few minutes you enter a large clearing, and here all is quiet. No one has returned to El Mozote. Empty as it is, shot through with sunlight, the place remains — as a young guerrilla who had patrolled here during the war told me with a shiver — espantoso: spooky, scary, dreadful. After a moment’s gaze, half a dozen battered structures — roofless, doorless, windowless, half engulfed by underbrush — resolve themselves into a semblance of pattern: four ruins off to the right must have marked the main street, and a fifth the beginning of a side lane, while an open area opposite looks to have been a common, though no church can be seen — only a ragged knoll, a sort of earthen platform nearly invisible beneath a great tangle of weeds and brush.

Relying principally on excavations by an Argentine forensic team sifting through the mass graves, and a Salvadoran woman, Rufina Amaya Marquez, who managed to escape the carnage, Danner tells the poignant story of what happened in a remote corner of the Americas over two days in December of 1981. In doing so, he rebuts the U.S. government’s steadfast characterization of the slaughter as a skirmish between CIA-backed Salvadoran troops and Marxist guerillas.

The New Yorker billed Danner’s Truth of El Mozote as a “parable of the Cold War” and, indeed, it shined a spotlight on the proxy wars that erupted across the global South, pitting the mostly Europeans who owned colonized settlements across the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, against the black and brown workers who built them. Yet it also represents a triumph of nonfiction storytelling, and the intimate reportage that is its rebar, providing a showcase for a model of journalism, now defunct, that is transformative rather than transactional. 

Danner’s artful prose has all-but disappeared from today’s media, replaced by 16-character tweets, memes, and something called listicles. Gone are storytellers who trafficked in deep and close-up reporting and interviews with the people-on-the ground, and in their place have surfaced bloggers and podcasters and pundits who seem preoccupied with gazing at their own navels rather than storytelling. Much like the leftist dissidents from Argentina’s La Guerra Sucia, or Dirty War, Rufina Amaya  Marquez and her encounter with evil would be disappeared, airbrushed, as it were out of the picture, leaving the telling of her story to those who tried to kill her, and those who experienced it second-hand, if at all. 

What is lost, ultimately, is an understanding of both the world and each other. Whether we realize it or not, we need stories; the best educators, trial lawyers, and politicians can attest to the power of storytelling. Narrative strengthens our humanity, informs our democracy, fends off ignorance and ennui. Journalism in the U.S. has never been good overall —I can make a compelling argument that the news media’s raison d’etre has traditionally been to head off class war in America by fomenting a race war  — but at its best, as exemplified by Danner’s work in El Salvador, it can narrow the yawning divide that is the source of our discontent.

Today’s journalists have abandoned even the pretense of inquiry in an effort to reproduce inequality by asserting their authority, their singular expertise in addressing all that ails we, the people. This explains why they typically eschew narrative and reportage for access to the powerful and panels of pundits and politicians which continues to center the very same voices who are wholly responsible for the perfect storm of political, economic and environmental crises that are bearing down on us. Consider for a moment the architecture of storytelling like Danner’s, which centers not the journalist, but his or her subject.  

Contrast that with the Intercept’s interview last year with Brazil’s ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was jailed at the time on trumped-up corruption charges pressed by conservative politicians who wanted to derail a reelection bid by the popular president, commonly known as “Lula.” In the wide-ranging interview, Glenn Greenwald covered a lot of ground and did not spare Lula the tough questions about the failures of both his administration or the policies of his center-left Workers Party. But what Greenwald failed to do is identify the narratives that, like Danner’s article 26 years earlier, might’ve deepened our understanding not just of Brazil, but of our own country, and the world.

Greenwald failed to explore in his follow-up questioning, or produce a follow-up documentary based on the interview, which could’ve contextualized Lula and his Workers’ Party as part of Latin America’s Pink Tide, an uprising of leftist governments that began to sweep America’s “backyard” bracketed by the 1998 election of Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez, and the 2007 election of Rafael Correa. First elected in 2002, Lula clearly distanced his government from the Pink Tide, choosing a moderate third way, akin to Bill Clinton, that produced some modest, liberal reforms, but did nothing to sever Brazil’s ties to Wall Street finance. For much of his presidency, and that of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil continued to pay interest rates on its public debt that was among the highest in the world, privileging investors while killing exports, and job creation. Given that the only Pink Tide state that survived the offensive from Washington is the nation that embraced socialism most ardently, Venezuela, will Lula embrace more radical, transformative policies that appeal to Brazil’s black majority in his political comeback?  That question would have particular resonance stateside. The Portuguese settlers imported more Africans to toil as slaves than any country in the world —the U.S. is a distant second —and today is home to more people of African descent than any country save Nigeria. Slavery in Brazil outlasted its American counterpart by 23 years. Consequently, Brazil is virtually a mirror image of the U.S. in terms of economic inequality, violence against blacks, and the voters’ choice of a vile, Donald Trump mini-me as president.  Said Lula:

“It’s because this isn’t just an economic question; it’s a cultural issue. One has to remember that it was only a little over a hundred years ago that slavery was legally abolished, and that it continues in the minds of many. That’s why the greatest victims of police violence are black, that’s why those who are black earn less than 50 percent less than those who are white, and that’s why black women earn less than white women. That’s why those who are black have a lower average level of schooling than those who are white. Why? Because slavery is still prevalent deep within people’s consciousness. It’s a harsh thing to say but it’s true. And this doesn’t change overnight. Really, I think deep down it’s not an economic question. It’s a set of cultural, political and sociological issues.”

Sound familiar?

Contextualizing Lula’s interview historically represents journalism that can heal by connecting the dots, and shining a light on our way forward. 

Part of the problem is simply a numbers game. Never especially diverse, the news media has undergone a stark transformation over the last generation, triggered by Bill Clinton’s 1996 Telecommunications Act, which deregulated the industry and allowed giant corporations to buy up thousands of news outlets across the country, tightening their monopoly on the flow of information in the United States and around the world. Since the law was enacted, the number of black journalists in U.S. newsrooms has plummeted by nearly half, from 2,946 in 1998 to 1,560 in 2015, according to the American Society for Newspaper Editors, or ASNE. On a per-capita basis, that figure is slightly smaller than it was in 1890, when the U.S. Census counted 300 black journalists out of a total population of 62 million, compared with 330 million today.

According to ASNE, as a percentage of the workforce, blacks accounted for 5.4 percent of all editorial staff in 2015 — a proportion virtually identical to the 1968 Kerner Commission Report’s estimate that African-Americans represented only 5 percent of the nation’s journalism workforce then. Even fewer, about 1 percent, are supervising editors.

The Kerner Commission was charged with identifying the causes of the season of revolts that erupted in America’s big cities beginning with the Watts rebellion in August of 1965 and climaxed three years later following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The common thread in all of the riots, the report’s authors wrote, was racial discrimination in housing, education, job opportunities and, centrally, the news media, which was so disconnected from the black community writ large that it had almost nothing useful to say about its causes, or how to prevent such uprisings in the future.

Danner is white, but he worked in a journalistic milieu in which there was at least an effort in newsrooms across the country to rectify the issues identified by the Kerner Commission report, although it was eventually overwhelmed by the campaign to whitewash history and discourage whites from supporting the progressive social movements of people of color. Seldom does the media connect us to a world outside the Beltway, or beyond Harvard Square. The result is a media milieu which hits the mute button on Rufina Amaya Marquez, and where, to quote Ossie Davis’ character, Da Mayor, in Spike Lee’s iconic 1989 movie Do the Right Thing, “those who’ll say, don’t know, and those who know, can’t say!”

A Half-Life, Fully-Lived.

I awoke this morning thinking about Brian Coyle.

It’s been 26 years since he died, the first openly gay city council member in Minneapolis. I was the City Hall reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, dumber than the day is long, but energetic, and curious and honest.

Unbeknownst to most of the world at the time, Brian had contracted HIV in the mid-80s and long before I got the City Hall Beat, he’d begun working covertly with a local magazine reporter on a story about this struggle with the virus.

Brian was an intellectual, a conservative fat kid turned liberal gadfly, and remains to this day, perhaps the sharpest-dressed man I’ve ever personally known. He would invite me into his office and explain the city’s Fifth Ward to me, and the world, and when he laughed, it was an experience in itself, somewhere between a howl and a cackle, its sheer joy, and freedom reminding me of my father’s baritone laughter.

In the months leading up to his death, I suspected he was sick, not because he looked ill or had been unusually absent from work, but because his behavior became slightly more erratic; once, he berated me in front of his staff for a story I’d written which he believed reflected the kind of kneejerk liberalism that lost liberals elections. Both in tone and content, it was most un-Brian-like. I said nothing in response, and when he retreated back into his office, his secretary and I exchanged worried, knowing looks.

Days before the magazine story was to come out, rumors began to circulate that he was indeed ill, and he summoned me into his office one morning and shut the door behind me. The story was coming out because he knew he had not much longer to live, but he was concerned that it might make me–the Star Tribune’s young, black City Hall reporter–look bad if I got beat on the story revealing his illness.

So in one of the greatest acts of kindness and love ever shown me, he gave me the whole story, had me accompany him to the Red Door clinic, talk to his doctor, sit next to him while he took breathing treatments to keep pneumonia at bay. “This” he said to me after one exhalation from the plastic tube, “is the only thing I get to suck on these days, Jeter,” he said, and laughed that demonic, gorgeous laugh of his, so loud and defiant and full of the Blues that I couldn’t help but join him, laughing like an idiot as if the tube contained laughing gas that had cast a spell on the entire room. The doctor opened the door, shot us a damning look, then smiled and left.

My story on Brian’s illness was actually published BEFORE the magazine article by a day or two, and because Brian had given me so much information and access, it was arguably just as good. When he died a few months later, his sister called and left a message on my answering machine, saying that Brian had left her strict instructions to include me on the list of phone calls to be made.

I often think of Brian, but he’s been on my mind a lot in recent days. I heard a laugh that reminded me of his the other day, and it’s left me thinking about what it means to give a damn about another human being, and how, ultimately, that’s the only thing that will get us through.