Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Obama Ignoring Blacks? A Disturbing Trend

We are about one year away from the official swearing in of America's first black president. One year away and black backlash concerning Obama's commitment to addressing the economic and social woes African Americans face seems to be swelling. This trend is validated by the following articles:

Something Special for Everyone from Obama, But Not for Blacks

OPINION: Obama’s Indifference Is An Insult To Black Voters

Are Blacks Abandoning Obama?

Obama Defends Himself Against Black Critics

Black members of Congress have begun pressing their demands that the nation’s first African-American president do more for minorities hard hit by the recession, noting the billions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to prop up big banks and large corporations. Nationally,unemployment stands at 10 percent while 15.6 percent of blacks are jobless.

More detailed thoughts on this subject will be posted before the year ends. Here, I wanted to present articles so we can scrutinize and prioritize the complaints and dissatisfaction. In the wake of a historic election, this disturbing trend, if accurate, threatens to detour blacks onto a familiar path of discord and dysfunction. Booker T Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and other black leaders all viciously battled one another to the detriment of the collective.

What has a history of division taught us?

To quote a famous former Chicago community organizer; "This is OUR time!" Resonating within Obama's universal mantra was a subtle nod to the people whose ancestors entered the race for freedom, justice and equality some 300 years after other Americans.

The president never promised to "save us." However, he has provided the inspiration, government resources and a blueprint for us to save ourselves.

In the afterglow of a momentous election, we stand at a symbolic crossroad. We can continue a disturbing trend, plodding along a divisive path paved by unmet, Messiah-like expectations and in-fighting. Or, blacks can grasp the baton history has handed them, sprint like hell before the four-year clock times out and finally, finally assume our rightful place in an ongoing race.

Next: What If? A New Year's Wish

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An O'Reilly Blast from the Past

Someone sent me a comment regarding an old blog I posted about my old friend Bill O'Reilly. I wrote the piece three years ago while still employed as a columnist with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The blast from the past brought back fun memories I thought I'd share with you here. Just for the record, O'Reilly never honored his wager.

Monday, March 20, 2006
Leave O'Reilly Alone ... He's Just Crazy

I remember a drunken, seemingly deranged bum in my old neighborhood who walked around with soiled pants, talking to himself and cursing anybody and everybody who crossed his path.

If my mother caught her kids laughing at the bum, she'd scold us, "Leave that man alone. Can't you see he's crazy?"

Fox's million-dollar blabbermouth, Bill O'Reilly, reminds me of that neighborhood lush. Perhaps we "liberals" ought to leave him alone, too. After all ... he's just crazy.

There's no better explanation for the man's behavior. Last year in January, as a guest on his program, "The O'Reilly Factor," I told the host that the "liberal" media commentators he criticizes, rarely resort to the type of name-calling and insults he does on his show.

"That's not true," O'Reilly countered, adding that he never calls people names.

I had just heard O'Reilly call California Senator Barbara Boxer a "nut" and her constituents "loons" on his radio show days before our interview. So, there I sat, in front of millions of his viewers, trying to convince a soggy alcoholic that he'd again peed his pants.

After labeling me a "fraud," O'Reilly promised to check his transcripts. He wagered a dinner at Tony's, a posh restaurant here in St. Louis, if my accusations about Boxer turned out to be true.

The next day, Media Matters for America posted several of O'Reilly's personal attacks (mediamatters.).

"Brown was right and I was wrong ..." O'Reilly begrudgingly admitted on his program that night. Of course, he reneged on the dinner bet by changing the focus of our debate.

I was still a "fraud," O'Reilly maintained because I use "Media Matters' stuff all the time ... they just feed it to him, and he prints it."

Whatever, Bill.

After pointing out in my column that O'Reilly was "spinning" his way out of his own wager, I let the matter go. I held on to a naive notion that the huge slice of humble pie O'Reilly was forced to swallow might help him come to grips with his long history of casting disparaging zingers.

Silly me.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I listened to O'Reilly's debate with former M.A.S.H. star and activist Mike Farrell late last month. Farrell commented that O'Reilly had gained credibility due to his style of "personal attacks."

"No, I don't do personal attacks here, mister," O'Reilly responded authoritatively (mediamatters).

Media Matters busted O'Reilly again, this time with a video montage of his greatest put-downs. On the tape, O'Reilly described Media Matters as "vile, despicable ankle-biters" who use his words "out of context" then "feeds stuff to the mainstream media to discredit" him.

I then wrote in my column that O'Reilly, other conservative pundits and even the president tend to blame the media when things aren't going their way. During his March 17 television show, O'Reilly lashed out at actors Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, Senator Russ Feingold and other "ultra-liberal" members of the "Kool-Aid left." I was among those included in the "personal attack:"

"Fanatical, progressive columnist Sylvester Brown," who writes for the "liberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch," took "information from a far-left smear website, which routinely distorts comments from anyone the site doesn't like."

The fact that I print "dishonest garbage" says "a lot about" me and the Post-Dispatch, O'Reilly continued. The "tens of millions of people" who watch or listen to his shows, know I'm "distorting the truth," he claimed. "Just as they know the far-left smear websites are in business to injure rather than inform." (mediamatters)

Whatever, Bill.

It used to be fun catching O'Reilly in his own lies. But now ... well, it's just sad. I mean, he must see himself on video or read his own transcripts that clearly prove he routinely engages in personal attacks.

I just don't get it. It's not a sin to publicly diss your opponents. I'd be a fool to deny calling O'Reilly "crazy," knowing darn well the statement is right here with my name attached.

Why doesn't O'Reilly just fess up? He could say it's part of his schtick, a byproduct of his passionate positions, or he could blame it on his birthplace, New York. "Hey, we New Yorkers insult people -- fughedaboutit!"

But, no. Like the soiled, cantankerous drunk who blames the bottle for his condition, O'Reilly invites ridicule when he denies, dodges and responds with paranoid proclamations that the "liberal" media and "smear web sites" are out to get him.

It used to be fun exposing Fox's biggest windbag but now, after realizing O'Reilly is stuck in the permanent spin zone of manic denial and manufactured enemies, well, it's just sorta sad.

* The article above wasn't included in my 2006 post. I just added it here to further illustrate the schizophrenic nature of my old friend, Bill. -- SB

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"First Lady Michelle Obama shook her head from side to side..."

After this guy heckled her husband ...

I was shocked and appalled when someone shouted "You Lie" during Obama's speech.

The AP released this about 10 minutes after the speech:

Obama heckled by GOP during speech to Congress

Associated Press 09/09/09

WASHINGTON — The nastiness of August reached from the nation's town halls into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday as President Barack Obama tried to move his health care plan forward.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" after Obama had talked about illegal immigrants.

It wasn't the only interruption during Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress in the House of Representatives. Earlier, Republicans laughed when Obama acknowledged that there are still significant details to be worked out before a health overhaul can be passed.Wilson's outburst caused Obama to pause briefly before he went on with his speech. Overhead in the visitors' gallery, first Lady Michelle Obama shook her head from side to side.

As usual, Media Matters for America was on it and corrected the charge:

Proof That ‘You Lie!’ Was A Lie

The Huffington Post also has something about the outburst and posted a photo:

"Rep. Joe Wilson Yells Out "You Lie!" During Obama Health Care Speech"

Personally, I think Cong. Wilson should hear from you:

Here's Wilson's contact info:

Washington, D.C. Office:

212 Cannon House Office Building,

District of Columbia 20515-4002

Phone: (202) 225-2452

Fax: (202) 225-2455


You can write to Rep. Wilson:

Copy of letter I sent:

Rep. Wilson; Your behavior during President Obama's health care speech was atrocious. When you shouted "You lie" you embarrassed yourself and your constituents. You ought to be ashamed and I sincerely hope you are roundly censured and widely criticized by members of the legislature, the media and citizens of the United States. You crossed all boundaries of protocol.

-- Sincerely, Sylvester Brown, Jr.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Up You Mighty People ... It's not too Late

It's been about 88 years since, Marcus Garvey, head of the Universal Negro Improvement Association urged blacks to "do for self" -- establish their own businesses, develop their own institutions and communities and promote and protect their own culture.

There was nothing "racist" about Garvey's message. It was a call to do what other ethnicities (Jews, Asians, American whites) have done for centuries.

This article (The Destruction of the Black Middle Class) should serve as a reminder that now, more than ever, African-Americans should focus on an agenda of self-survival.

According to a study by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy, 33 percent of the black middle class who were already in danger of falling out of the middle class at the start of the recession are now living that nightmare. This doesn't even address the majority of blacks caught in the cycle of poverty that now may never ascend.

The article further states:

Black unemployment is now at 14.7%, compared to 8.7% for whites... Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, estimates that 40% of African Americans will have experienced unemployment or underemployment by 2010, and this will increase child poverty from one-third of African-American children to slightly over half. No one can entirely explain the extraordinary rate of job loss among African Americans, though factors may include the relative concentration of blacks in the hard-hit retail and manufacturing sectors, as well as the lesser seniority of blacks in better-paying white-collar positions.
The way I see it, African-Americans are in the midst of another cultural shift. The first was after Emancipation. The second came during the Reconstruction period and the third was after the passage of Civil Rights legislation that was supposed to end institutional racism and open new avenues of equality and prosperity.
However, with the election of Obama, the landscape has changed -- for good and bad.
Many benevolent whites who support "black causes" now think the job is done. Some (even the most liberal) believe we live in a "post-racial" society and there's no longer a need for governmental initiatives to even the playing field.
The Obama Administration, as I have long insisted, offers rare opportunities for blacks to go about the business of creating agendas that will bring about long-lasting economic opportunity and social change.
However, I worry that black leaders and the rest of us aren't listening or responding to the quiet codes Obama laid out in his book (The Audacity of Hope) and the messages inherent in his administrative choices and new initiatives.
I fear we will miss the opportunity to capitalize on the next major cultural shift and we will remain forever stuck in an unpredictable cycle of economic and social vulnerability.
If you share this concern, e-mail me. I have a few ideas and I'm almost ready to roll.
It's time for dreamers to create an realistic agenda that puts Garvey's words into action.
Peace -- Sylvester

Monday, August 3, 2009

Teabaggers want a voice in health-care forums -- one that disrupts, attacks, and distracts


We noticed the other day that tea partiers are being organized into a campaign of disruption and intimidation at health-care forums. As Politico reports, the disruptions at town halls are becoming quite common.

It turns out that, as Lee Fang at Think Progress reports, the disruptions are being carefully planned by teabaggers:

This growing phenomenon is often marked by violence and absurdity. Recently, right-wing demonstrators hung Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy outside of his office. Missing from the reporting of these stories is the fact that much of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms.

The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress.

Some of the advice being dispensed to teabaggers:

– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”

– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”

That's right: We wouldn't want an intelligent debate, would we? Because God knows what kind of horrible things might result if Americans were thoughtfully informed. Certainly the conservative agenda would not be realized.

Chris Good at The Atlantic reports that we can expect a long August with these kinds of events:

Over August recess, conservative activist groups will mount a renewed effort to kill the dreaded ObamaCare. August will be a melee of grassroots (or Astroturfed) activity on both sides: members of Congress will be home in their districts, holding town-halls, taking feedback from constituents--in other words, they'll be more open to pressure from activist campaigns than at any other time during the year.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Cleansing at the Used Tire Shop

"Hey, Sol, look, it's the newspaper ma.., Oops, I mean our buddy’s here, Solomon.”

For years, whenever the rusted, tin bell above Sol & Sal's Used Tire Shop twinkled announcing my entrance, one of the elderly twin owners would shout: “… it’s the newspaper man.”

Stifled feelings of hurt and anger resurfaced as Sal struggled to define me.

I started writing about the brothers after I was hired as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2003. Like Jess B. Simple, Langston Hughes' character, Sol and Sal are accumulations of my past and present -- people, real and unreal, cynical and optimistic who represent the hope and hopelessness that is black life.

I turn to my oracles when “my cogs are stuck,” Sol aptly phrased it in one of my early writings about the mythical shop.

Since learning of my termination in April, Sal, like so many other Post-Dispatch readers, is still adjusting to the fact that I am no longer with the newspaper.

Like Jess B. Simple, Langston Hughes' character, Sol and Sal are accumulations of the past present -- people, real and unreal, the cynical and optimistic who represent the hope and hopelessness that is black life.

Although I tell myself the departure from the Post-Dispatch was destined and will ultimately lead to new doors of opportunity, the sympathetic looks and comments from friends and former readers spur mixed feelings -- embarrassment, anger and … well, repressed fears about my future.

Unlike his usual reserved, reflective self, Sal's brother, Sol, rushed through the checkered curtains separating the storefront from the shop's repair area. Wiping his oil-stained hands on an oil-stained rag, Sol hugged me like a son returning from war.

"Youngblood, I was wondering when you were gonna stop by,” he beamed.

Though in his 70s, Sol is linebacker strong. I took comfort in his embrace and the fact that, no matter how old I get, with Sol & Sal, I'll always be “Youngblood.”

“Knew you had to get your head together, but I was startin’ ta worry ‘boutcha,” Sol said.

“Yeah, I thought you mighta committed sideways or sumpin,” Sal chuckled.

"Why would I do that?" I asked.

“Cause, you lost yourself one of dem good white-folk jobs,” Sal said. “Many a good brutha git all embarrassed, lose their way and take their own lives once sumpin like that happens.”

“Not this one,” Sol retorted, his arm still around my shoulder. “He’s a Souljah, born to battle.”

“Yeah, a soldier with no place and no money to fight those battles,” Sal shot back.

He didn’t mean any harm. It was just Sal's way. He’s old school, a realist. Sal follows a consistent motto: “Whites run it and blacks run around in it!”

Whenever I wrote about the brothers in the Post, most white readers seemed to side with Sal. They liked his Cosby-esque way of condemning “victimization.” Sal placed the onus of black problems on black shoulders. He had little patience for conversations about racism, denied opportunities or challenging “Da Man.”

On the flip side, Sol’s words resonated with many black readers. They agreed with his sentiments that racism is institutionalized, still damaging and the battle for its total eradication is ongoing.

Few readers understood that there was no “right or wrong” with the twins. Both represent my conflicting realities and sentiments I share with people of my hue and of my passions.

“I saw you on the news,” Sal interjected. “You did a good job splaining what happened. And I believe you were canned on trumped up charges and all, but … and don’t get me wrong, I just gotta ask … did you forget who you are?”

I had given the old man’s question a lot of thought before the visit.

“No, I knew my place, Sal” I answered. “Sure, there were arrogant, insecure bosses who seemed to draft rules and policies just for me ... but, to be real, that was all expected. I did my best to navigate the antagonistic terrain, serve the readers and live up to my journalistic standards.”

“See, right there, those last few words … your ‘journalism standards’ don't matta,” Sal shouted triumphantly. “You don’t make the rules, son, you follow ‘em. Face it, you were a shit disturber and there’s no place in corporate America for shit disturbers, especially black ones.”

Sol quietly considered his brother’s words before responding:

“With great opportunity, comes great responsibility, Sal. Youngblood had a valuable platform to challenge power, speak for the voiceless and try to implement change. Are you saying he should have just ignored his principles and played along, just to git along?”

“That’s ‘xactly what I’m saying, you old fool,” Sal spat.

I shared something with the men that a very blunt lawyer said after reviewing my complaints against the Post-Dispatch: “I have no interest in your principles.”

“See,” Sal shouted, as if vindicated. “He has no case.”

“I didn’t say that, Sal, ” I responded. “It’s just that the lawyers I’ve spoken with insist that I must go the discrimination route. They discourage pursuing a legal battle based on my principles.”

“And that bothers you, right,” Sol said knowingly.

“Yeah, it does. Not only does it seem predictable but mounting a discrimination case might be fruitless. Sure, juries recognize the in-your-face, ‘you're a nigger’ kind of racism. But that other -- subtle, insulting, demeaning, death-by-a-thousand-cuts -- I’ve always had trouble getting readers to acknowledge or understand that that kind of racial discrimination exists.

Why would a jury be any different?"

Sol’s unflinching gaze unsettled me.

“There’s something else, isn’t there, Youngblood? You don’t hafta be a Souljah with us. Lower your guards, tell us what’s really troubling you.”

He was right, there was no need to hide from my muses:

“Honestly, I’m torn about this whole lawsuit business. Yes, I feel slandered. After 22 years of journalism, I now have this dark cloud over my head based on a lie. I can't help but wonder what the hundreds of kids I've spoken with over the years think of me now. I wonder if I will ever have the opportunity to work for another major publication. So, yeah, I suppose I want vindication in court..."

“There’s something else, isn’t there?” he asked gently. “You don’t hafta be a Souljah with us. Lower your guards, tell us what’s really troubling you.”

Sol didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. I was working my way toward the locus of my discontent:

“It’s just … all the years with those people, sharing stories about my childhood, my family, my wife and kids, my frustrations and my desire to help rebuild long-ignored urban communities – none of it mattered. I went from being a colleague to being like any other brother accused of a crime. 'Guilt' was automatically assumed without question,” I sighed. "After all those years of trying to convince readers not to treat blacks like stereotypes, I became one ... just another Nigga!"

Surprisingly, Sal flinched when I called myself the N-word. He shook his head as he spoke:

“I feel ya. But there’s a whole lot of Negroes crying about the injustice aimed at ‘just-us.’ The fact remains, you lost a damn good job and crying about it won’t change a thi …”

“Whoa, hold up there,” Sol angrily interrupted. “You missin’ the boat, Sal. He ain’t ‘crying,’ he’s cleansing -- because he can, with us. He has to, so he can git ta doing what he's 'sposed to do."

Turning back to me, he asked: "Youngblood, what color was yo Nigga at the Post?"

"What kind of a foolish question is that, man?" Sal shouted. "Erbody know the color of a Nigga -- doo-doo brown, mustard yella or black as the midnite sky."

"Yongblood knows what I mean," Sal answered cooly.

I did. Sol was talking about the color of emotions -- calm blue or seething red.

My head buzzed with memories of my battles with younger, white, male editors who had no clue or interest in my input, thoughts, experiences or my community involvement. I thought about my colleague who made almost twice as much money as I did, even though we basically did the same work. I remembered my efforts to learn blogging and video taping my stories and all the columns I wrote about saving the cash-strapped, struggling Post-Dispatch.

That constant "little boy" feeling returned when I recalled how often I was told my work wasn't "good enough" or that I didn't deserve a raise. As I dwelled on how disrespected and undervalued I felt at the newspaper, the "color" was evident.

"He was gray, Sol, small and gray."

Sol smiled:“You may have taken your sweet time getting by here, but we been watchin’you. Since losing that so-called ‘good job,’ you been spending more time with your family, getting back to your entrepreneurial roots. To me, you seem happier, less stressed -- like you're dreamin' again.

"I can't tell you what to do about suing ... that's yo call," Sol continued. "But I do have a question for you; What color is yo Nigga now?

I answered without hesitation: “Green, Sol but he's not exactly a Nigga anymore."

Sol winked at the revelation:

“Ah, Green .. the color of growth. Ya see, Youngblood, you’re back in your element – writing what you want, when you want, dreamin’ big dreams without white folk’s permission. 'Green...' Yeah, I can dig it!"

Frustrated, Sal threw up his hands.

“There you go, ya crazy old man … filling his head with foolishness. Jobs like the one he lost don’t grow on trees, you know.”

“No doubt,” Sol answered. “But fate won’t let Youngblood take the easy route – it never has. He put something out there. Now he has to be man enough to follow through. It’s that simple.”
He ain’t ‘crying,’ he’s cleansing -- because he can, with us. He has to, so he can git ta doing what he’s ‘sposed to do.”

As Sol and Sal debated, I rose to leave. It was liberating, sifting through my fears and emotions but, honestly, I had to distance myself, especially from Sal. Sometimes, his arguments are just too darn powerful, too intimidating.

The twin brothers paid no notice when the doorbell tinkled. Their debate continued as I departed the shop:

“ ... no company health insurance, no steady paycheck, no 401K, no security … what’s he gonna do?” Sal demanded.

Sol’s soft and confident reply gave me some comfort.

“He’ll be fine. Remember, Sal, he’s a Souljah.”

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"Do the Right Thing!" Has it really been 20 years?

Say it aint so! Ran across this news clip celebrating the 20th anniversary of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing."

Plot: On the hottest day of the year on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, everyone's hate and bigotry smolders and builds until it explodes into violence.

Love the movie, love the director.

Here's a flash or two from the (gulp) past.

Isn't there a Pizza Hut commercial out now based on this rift?

"They didn't have to kill the boy ..." Final scene

Interested in your thoughts on Lee's film.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Rest in Peace, Little Cousin

Like a comet
Blazing 'cross the evening sky
Gone too soon …

– Michael Jackson / Gone Too Soon / 1991

As a child, my sister Patricia had an active imagination. In her mind, retired actors and actresses, like Doris Day, hung out in our neighborhood. She also claimed that certain celebrity families were somehow distant, distant relations of ours.

Of course, I made fun of her, but for more than 39 years, I secretly cleaved to one of Pat’s wacky fantasies – the notion that the Jackson 5 were our distant cousins.

She concocted the story sometime around 1970, when the group appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. The single “I Want You Back,” off the 1969 album, “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5” was already booming loud in our neighborhood. But the variety show appearance would be the first time my family would actually see the popular bubblegum group perform.

It’s hard to explain the impact the show had on me at that time. This was two years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was 12 years old and the majority of TV images of black people had to do with civil rights demonstrations, skin-ripping water hoses trained on black marchers, slathering dogs and angry police and bloody riots.

When my siblings and I watched The Jackson 5 before and after the Sullivan Show, we saw a different side of ourselves. We saw five, ultra-talented brothers with perfectly coiffed, circular Afros, puffy, big-collared pastel shirts, electric leisure suits, and, every now and again, colorful “Little Joe” hats (we named the hats after Joe Cartwright from the TV show, Bonanza).

Like everyone else, my family was hypnotized by the jaw-dropping stage persona of the youngest member of the group, Michael Jackson. The child was James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke all rolled into one gliding, sliding, twirling, crooning pint-sized package of talent.

Like a rainbow
Fading in the twinkling of an eye
Gone too soon

I suppose latching onto the notion that “Little Mike” was my cousin, served as a salve to treat the persistent wounds of poverty, despair, deprivation and hopelessness that was my early life.

The Jackson Family seemed like my own. Michael’s parents had nine kids; my mother had eleven. Reportedly, the Jacksons, like the Browns, were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The religion dissuaded its members from pursuing “worldly” ambitions. Michael showed me that there indeed was a compromise between loyalty to a deity and loyalty to one’s creative urges.

Like a castle
Built upon a sandy beach
Gone too soon

In Michael, I recognized the inner-turmoil one suffers when rejecting the comforting, yet stifling, religion of their youth. Still, Michael humbly acknowledged a “Higher Power” and lyrically emphasized the universal principles of “right and wrong” and protecting the weak. His music spoke to mankind’s responsibility to “beat swords into plowshares," to “judge not” and to do our dead-level best to "Save the World."

My mythical kinship kept me solidly by Michael’s side, no matter how eccentric his behavior or looks became. He was an old soul, not of this world, a man/child existing in a society that defines great brilliance as “weird” and kills what it does not understand.

I didn’t need to watch Michael defend himself against charges of child molestation in the 60 Minutes interview. If people really wanted to understand him, he told the late Ed Bradley, all they had to do was listen to his song, Have You Seen My Childhood:

“People say I'm strange that way
'Cause I love such elementary things,
It's been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood I've never known...”

The cry for understanding and unrequited love was evident but, for me, unnecessary. Michael was a man addicted to purity and motivated by the pain or unfettered laughter of a child.

The millions he donated to cure childhood diseases; the time he spent with sick and dying children; the images in his videos of kids juxtaposed against scenes of war, death and violence – as far as I'm concerned - offset the charges of those seeking monetary reward after claiming Michael molested their children.

Born to amuse
To inspire to delight
Here one day
Gone one night

The media lavished in the ugly rumors and propagated the “Wacko Jacko” persona. High-profile individuals salivated at the prospect of Michael losing his riches, his fame or his prized Beatles' music catalogs. They joked as the criminal justice circus literally stripped Michael of his dignity and tried to break his spirit.

It’s infuriating and painful to watch some of these same media and celebrity types now express their woes and admiration for an entertainer they helped push to an early demise.

Like millions of others, my head bobbed to Don’t Stop ‘til you Get Enough, Beat It, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, Invincible and countless other upbeat MJ hits. But Michael’s ballads, the powerful messages inherent in songs like Will You be There, Earth Song and You are Not Alone, his consistent challenge to Heal the World and his reminder that We Are the World rocked my soul.

Michael banged the drum of "change" long before Obama became its worldwide symbol. No entertainer, as far as I'm concerned, utilized the richness of diversity better to make strong societal statements and remind all that we are mostly separated by the age-old demons of ignorance, arrogance and fear.

Michael Jackson, the boy with the musical mannerisms of a man and a man with the characteristics of a boy, died Thursday. It’s hard to fathom a talent so large, a passion so raw and powerful -- gone.

How could a heart so huge possibly stop beating?

As much as I anticipated Michael’s musical comeback, the new dance move (rumored to be bigger than the Moonwalk) and another MJ song with a universal challenge -- these were simply selfish wishes. I wanted Michael’s genius re-validated, his greatness re-affirmed.

In reality, a “comeback” would have just introduced another ebb and flow of popularity and pain inherent in a fleeting, narrow-minded, toxic society intent on destroying messengers of peace and change.

Therefore, even though my heart aches, I take a small measure of comfort in Michael’s passing. He had unbelievable inner-strength but, like watching a loved one slowly waste away from cancer, it pained me to watch Michael's spirit dissolve.

In death, he has assumed the deserved and designated role of a true icon. In death, the stampede of love, loss and longing will grind hateful, greedy innuendo into dust. In death, Michael Jackson's legacy, music and messages will live on unencumbered.

The pain has ended.

Please know this, Michael; you did what you came here to do. You may finally rest in peace.

Like a sunset
Dying with the rising of the moon
Gone too soon
Gone too soon

Farewell, Little Cousin, I will miss you.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Missouri Looking to become a Leader in Energy Economy?

This from Grow a Green (Missouri) is "pitching itself to become a leader in the wind industry due to its proximity to the country's wind corridor (which is what also makes states like Nebraska and South Dakota good candidates for wind energy). It seems our state's labor force, low business costs, our transportation networks make the state a viable player.
According to the news item, Missouri Partnership has already started hosting Wind Energy Supply Chain workshops.

Click here for more information about the state's Wind Energy Supply Chain Workshops.

Click here for a copy of Missouri's Wind Energy Industry brochure

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Great News!" Execution Has Been Stayed!

From Reggie Clemons received a stay of execution today (story here) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit! This is great news, however, please continue to show your support for Reggie by signing the online petition, writing to Governor Nixon and attending upcoming events in support of Reggie’s campaign.

Note from Susan C: "This just in from the director of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty. Note that the stay of execution is temporary until the court receives a determination in another case. Those of us opposed to executions on moral grounds need to continue to share information with others. I know this is not a pleasant topic, but executions are done in our name and with our tax money. Did you know that capital cases actually cost the taxpayers more in the long run than other types of cases? And what is accomplished?"

From Jamala Rogers: Yesterday, Reggie received a “stay of execution” by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. While this was joyful news, it merely means that the execution was temporarily postponed. This will probably be until at least when a decision is made by the 8th Circuit on the motion before them on lethal injection by attorneys for Reggie and a few other death row inmates.

Let us savor this temporary victory but we CANNOT rest on our laurels. The work to save Reggie’s life is still in high gear and it must continue. Many events are being planned by the Justice for Reggie Campaign in conjunction with other groups; the documentary Borrowed Time is being shown; letters to Governor Nixon are still being sent; and petitions are still being collected.

Please visit Reggie’s website regularly to check out updates and information. And again, thanks for all of your hard work.

PS. Reggie, Vera Thomas and Jamala Rogers will be on 104.9’s Sunday Morning Live tomorrow (June 7) from 10:30 am-Noon.

Here are a few of the letters and comments I have received after posting my open letter to the Governor:

Governor Jeremiah Nixon
201 W. Capitol Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101-1556

Dear Gov. Nixon,

I am pleading for your mercy to grant a stay of execution for Reginald Clemons. I was employed at the St. Louis City Workhouse while he was awaiting trial. The first question he asked when he arrived was "The truth will come out when we go to trial. Right?"

After witnessing the brutality of young men and women housed in the institution, I have firsthand experience in assessing the demeanor of a killer. This question is one that would have never been asked by a guilty person. In fact, it is the question that still haunts me every time I hear about this case.

The more I learn about the case, the more disturbing it becomes. I will not go into detail of the all of the blatant inconsistencies and misconduct that you are well aware of but I cannot be silent any longer. If this execution goes forward, there will blood on the State's hands, not Reginald's.

Finally, I implore you to listen to your heart, pray, and trust God that you make the right decision, and let this young man live.

Respectfully, Rita Kirkland.


Governor Jeremiah Nixon
201 W. Capitol Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101-1556
FAX (573) 751-1495

Dear Governor Nixon,

I write today with a plea that you halt the execution of Reggie Clemons scheduled for June 17. You hold all the power now and I remind you that such power should be exercised with the utmost of caution. I submit that in Reggie’s case, every reason to have doubt exists. For this reason, you cannot, you mustn’t allow his execution. I have always understood that execution is reserved for premeditated crimes done by the most violent of offenders. I again submit Reggie’s case does not meet such criteria.

I admit that I am a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but never have I been so appalled as to make a plea to the governor of my state who can choose humanity in my name … or murder. I insist that Reggie’s execution would be murder. Please do not allow it.

You have undoubtedly received a great deal of correspondence asking you to halt this execution. No doubt you have reviewed the facts of the case. No doubt you believe in the justice system. No doubt you are concerned with those in your constituency who want justice for the Kerry sisters. I understand. I wish for justice for the Kerry sisters, too, but too much doubt exists here. Please, go speak with Reggie. Sit down with him. Learn everything you must before you allow this happen. I believe if you look him in the eyes, you will be unable to allow it. Because doubt exists, you cannot allow this to move forward.

Please do not sit back and allow the system to run its course here. You hold a power of enviable proportions. You can choose to sit back or stand up. I pray you will stand up for all of us who do not wish the state to murder on our behalf. I pray you will stand up for what’s right. To do otherwise is indefensible.

Please, Governor Nixon, do the right thing. Call off this execution. Call it off today. Give Reggie clemency today. Please. Do not execute in my name!

Most sincerely, Vicki Anton-Brown

Cc: Steve Long, chair of the Division of Parole and Probation (573) 751-8501

I also wanted to share this passionate response from Paula Skillicorn, widow of Dennis Skillicorn, the inmate executed by the state on May 20, 2009:

Mr. Brown,

I appreciate your support for clemency for Reggie Clemons. Your column was powerful. You are well-versed in Reggie's case.

Unfortunately, you obviously did not do your homework on my husband's case. Even the state admitted Dennis killed no one - at least they admitted it until the tide turned against them and people came out is support of clemency.

Yes, my husband was a drug addict and criminal. Yes, he participated in criminal behavior that ultimately resulted in murder. Yes, he belonged in prison for that behavior and life without the possibility of parole would have been a fair and just sentence. In fact, Dennis tried to plead guilty for a LWOP sentence, which would have saved the county and state millions of dollars, but it was an election year, and his offer was turned down.

Your assertion, "There's no doubt that Skillicorn murdered. In 1994, he killed an innocent man, a good Samaritan no less, Richard Drummond, a man who stopped to help Skillicorn and his companions after their car stalled." is absolutely wrong.

The killer has consistently insisted that Dennis did not know Allen Nicklasson was going to kill Richard Drummond. Nicklasson made that assertion 20 minutes after the murder to his girlfriend, and consistently told authorities the same thing. However, prosecutors prevented jurors from hearing that confession. As a result, the appellate courts would not listen to it either.

Prosecutor Page Bellamy later admitted to telling jurors Dennis was involved in a murder that Bellamy knew had not happened, but used anyway. He waited to admit this in court until it was too late in the appellate process for courts to address that misconduct.

Dennis' family and supporters did not have to swear he had changed his life. A mountain of evidence spanning 14 years demonstrated the sincerity and consistency of who Dennis really was. A great deal of evidence came from staff and volunteers who worked with Dennis on a daily basis. None of them would have put their jobs or positions on the line unless they knew for a fact that Dennis was a changed person.

I applaud your efforts to make Nixon see how his choice of violence is wrong. Vera is my friend, and I care about Reggie. Like my husband, Vera’s son is not worthy of death. I don't want any more families to go through the horror that the state put my family through. Nixon needs to do the right thing -- stop killing people and stop destroying innocent families. Because I, too, am tired of people being killed in my name.

Sincerely, Paula Skillicorn

Click here for activities Skillicorn led at Potosi Correctional
Click here for Skillicorn one-page "Fact Sheet:"

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Open Letter to Gov. Jay Nixon: "I Don't Want to Kill Anymore"

To the Attention of:
Gov. Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon
201 W. Capital Avenue
Jefferson City, MO 65101

Dear Gov. Nixon: Soon, if not already, your office will be inundated with letters from Missourians asking that you spare the life of death row inmate Reginald Clemons. My letter is included.

Reggie, as you know, was one of four young men charged and convicted of raping and pushing sisters Julie and Robin Kerry off the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1991.

After nearly four years without an execution, the state has begun killing again. We executed Dennis Skillicorn, 49, on May 20. I say "we" because the actions of the state are done in our name.

There are many of us, however, who can't abide murder in our name. Because the Missouri Supreme Court recently denied Reggie's request for a stay of execution, we turn to you, Governor, our last hope.

There's no doubt that Skillicorn murdered. In 1994, he killed an innocent man, a good samaritan no less, Richard Drummond, a man who stopped to help Skillicorn and his companions after their car stalled. Although his family and supporters swore Skillicorn had changed in prison and was known as a "role model" to other prisoners, you denied his clemency, noting that Skillicorn had killed before (and after) Drummond's death.

Without your stay, we citizens were forced to murder a murderer - not at the spur of the moment, but through a planned, deliberate, state-sanctioned action.

I argue that murder is murder. It is not justice.

That's why I joined others who wrote to you, our governor, asking for clemency in Reginald Clemons' case.

This blog addition serves to reach out to you further, Jay - not Gov. Nixon, just Jay, the son of a DeSoto, MO teacher, mayor and police judge, a former small town lawyer, a husband, father of two sons and a dedicated member of First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City.

This is a special plea to Jay, a man whose bio boasts of a willingness to restore "integrity," address "corruption," and fight "the toughest fights," and win.

Before Nixon, the governor, makes his decision, I'm hoping Jay, the small town lawyer, will thoroughly examine Reggie's case, dig deep, ask hard question and have the courage to reject the mob-like mentality of vengeance and revenge and say, "No, not this time!"

A Matter of Justice?

The tragic case of the Kerry Sisters has been well-documented by national and local media. If you need to refresh your memory, Gov. Nixon, a detailed analysis of the case and the courts' decisions can be found here.

We covered the Chain of Rocks Bridge case extensively in my now defunct publication, Take Five Magazine. I also wrote about the unsettling facts of the arrests and trials when I worked as a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The case is riddled with reasonable doubt, charges of police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.

The Kerry sisters were white. Three of the four suspects eventually arrested and convicted for the crime were African-Americans.

Reggie and two others, Antonio Richardson and Marlin A. Gray, received death sentences. The lone white defendant, Daniel Winfrey, was given a 30-year sentence after he plead guilty and testified against the others. The courts commuted Richardson's sentence to life in prison in 2004 after ruling that a jury, not a judge, should have sentenced him to death.

Gray was executed by lethal injection in October 2005. When he was executed, prosecutor's described him as the "mastermind of the murders."

If that's the case, why is the state going through with the execution of Reggie? Prosecutors brought forth no evidence linking him to the crimes and conceded he did not plan their deaths or push them from the bridge.

"Reggie’s case is marked by the familiar litany of abuses found in so many capital cases: police brutality, prosecutorial misconduct, racial bias and ineffective assistance of trial counsel. It is also a textbook case of reasonable doubt, a fundamental element of our criminal justice system that requires especially intense consideration in death penalty cases.Actor, human rights activist Danny Glover (For more click here)"

Gov. Nixon, there are several facts about this case that I hope you find disturbing.

Tom Cummins, the Kerry sisters' cousin, served as the state's star witness. Before police arrested Reggie and his three alleged accomplices, Cummins was their number one suspect. On the night of the murders, he told police a group of youths ordered him to jump off the bridge after they had pushed the Kerry sisters into the river. Police doubted the story. Cummins showed no signs of being in the river or swimming against its deadly currents. According to police reports, he had no injuries and his hair was dry and neatly-combed.

Under questioning, Cummins implicated himself in the death of his cousins, stating they had fallen from the bridge after he made an advance toward one of them. He was charged with murder but later recanted the story, saying police beat the confession out of him.

Police found a flashlight on the bridge and traced it to Antonio Richardson, one of the youths on the bridge that night. After Richardson implicated himself, Daniel Winfrey, Marlin Gray and Reginald Clemons, police suddenly found merit in Cummins' questionable version of events.

Marlin Gray was one of the four young men police arrested for the crime. Gray also recanted his confession, claiming that he too, was beaten and that police coerced his confession. Gray and Cummins gave nearly identical accounts of their beatings by the same interrogating officers.

The trial court denied Gray's motion to suppress his confession that he raped and murdered the Kerry sisters. Gray's lawyers maintain that the prosecutor, Nels Moss, knew of Cummins' beating claim but never shared that information with Gray's attorneys. If the court knew that both men were beaten, his lawyers argue, it might have stricken Gray's confession.

When Cummins was arrested for the murders, he initially told police he only saw "a hand" push his cousins. During Gray's trial, he adapted his story, testifying it was Gray's hand he saw.

Reggie's parents say police detectives had no warrant when they arrested their son at his home in suburban St. Louis. In fact, Vera Thomas, Reggie’s mother, said police told her Reggie did not need a lawyer. She believed them. After all, Reggie, 19 at the time, had no criminal record and showed no signs of criminal behavior.

Reggie also claimed police beat the confession out of him (click here to read excerpts from Clemons' April 7, 1991 taped confession). His bruises were so severe that during his arraignment in April 1991, Judge Michael David sent him to the hospital for treatment.

Even though Reggie maintained his confession was coerced and, to this day, has never admitted pushing the Kerry Sisters off the bridge -- the state sees fit to execute him.

On the day Reggie was sentenced to death in 1993, Cummins filed a lawsuit against the Police Department and reportedly later received a $150,000 settlement.

"Before April 1991, I hadn’t given much thought to the criminal justice system. I just assumed people got fair trials and if someone was convicted, they must be guilty. I’d hear hideous descriptions about what someone did and think they were a horrible person. I didn’t find out until Reggie’s case that what you see in the news or even in court is not always the whole story." -- Vera Thomas, Reginald Clemons’s mother (For more click here)

Governor, many will say that Reggie's case has been thoroughly reviewed by the courts. Indeed, in 1998, after lawyers filed a petition in federal court detailing the numerous problems with Reggie’s conviction -- including lack of evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective counsel, police brutality, the fact of innocence and an unconstitutional jury selection process (in a city with a population of more than 50 percent black, only two of the twelve jurors who heard Reggie's case were African-American) -- United States District Court Judge Catherine D. Perry ruled Reggie’s death sentence "unconstitutional."

That decision was overturned in 2004 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Although Reggie’s death sentence was reinstated, Judge Michael Melloy, (a George W. Bush nominee) argued in his dissent that Reggie’s constitutional rights had been violated and his death sentence should not be imposed.

Was "justice," really served in this case? It's a question that a former small town lawyer might want to ask himself while he deliberates.

Gov. Nixon, you were born a year before me on February 13, 1956. We were raised during a time when the mere accusation of black men raping or assaulting white women was cause for death or incarceration. I implore you, Governor, reflect on those times while reading court transcripts from the Chain of Rocks Bridge murder case.

Decipher the words used by then prosecutor, Nels Moss, who, during the penalty phase of Gray's trial described the defendant's white, female character witnesses as "followers of Charles Manson."

You'll come across another part in the court's transcripts where Moss uses other code words. He reminded jurors that crime was out of control and he detailed shootings that may happen on their block. Note how Moss suggested killing Gray was a way to deal with escalating crime.

Do you think those words might have prejudiced the case, Mr. Nixon?

The appeals document lists several rulings that state: "A prosecutor may not urge jurors to convict a criminal defendant in order to protect community values, preserve civil order, or deter future lawbreaking."

Isn't that exactly what Moss did?

Perhaps this explains why on the same day Reggie's trial ended in 1993, the trial judge sanctioned the prosecutor for improper behavior. A few months later, the court held that the prosecutor was in direct criminal contempt for his actions in the courtroom. The judge imposed a monetary fine on the prosecutor. Reggie, however, was sentenced to death.

Again, was justice really served?

Governor, you were elected last year under a nationwide banner of "Change." With more than a million black men in our nation's prisons (many for non-violent crimes) and disproportionate numbers of minorities sitting on death row waiting to be killed, many voters want reasoned political leadership and courageous intervention.

Dozens of death row inmates have been exonerated in recent years, thanks in part to new DNA testing techniques. Even former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who was later convicted of a felony, recognized that the death penalty is "reserved almost exclusively for the poor and people of color." Ryan, who understands that the death penalty is no deterrent to crime, called for a moratorium on state-sanctioned killing in Illinois.

If a flawed politician can recognize institutional flaws in the system and muster the courage to say "no more," surely, Governor, a man of your caliber can also rise to the challenge.

Mr. Nixon, both you and I are husbands and fathers. If there's no other choice, we will kill if our spouses or our children are under immediate, life-threatening danger. Barring this, there are "other" ways to punish murderers without becoming killers ourselves.

I'm hoping this reaches the heart of the Jay Nixon who attends First United Methodist Church. I'm not talking to a politician like the one Christine Nema described in her letter to the Post-Dispatch after the death of Skillicorn who "assent(s) to popular opinion."

No, I'm talking to the man who prays for forgiveness in church; the man who professes to follow Jesus' teachings and understands that "vengeance" is in the Lord's hands not those of "imperfect Man" incapable of righteously deciding who should live or who should die.

I'm hoping a Christian heart will take time and truly investigate and contemplate, before making his decision about clemency. If you can, Mr. Nixon, watch FOX 2 reporter Bornita Cornute's three-part interview with Reggie. (Part One aired on On July 29, 2008, Parts Two & Three were posted on the station's website). The facts of the case and Reggie's own words may give you the needed pause and the resolve to do the courageous thing.

When you refused to give clemency to Richard Skillicorn, Mr. Governor, you said it was because he killed and killed again. I don't condone your decision but I want to trust your reasoning.

What reasoning applies to the murder of Reggie?

No court has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he killed. Will Reggie's execution bring solace to the victims' family?

I can't imagine their pain and sorrow. But I have met many, many family members of murder victims who have risen above their pain and publicly called for a halt to the death penalty. These people substituted humanity for pain.

These courageous souls are on my mind as I reach out to you, Jay Nixon. This is your chance to do something courageous, your chance to stand for humanity, to be Reggie's last hope, to truly speak for the citizens of this state who want no part of murder in our name.


The facts about Reginald Clemons and the Chain of Rocks Bridge case posted in this blog were compiled from my articles and columns written in Take Five Magazine and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and from the "Justice for Reggie web site at:

The deadline for clemency petitions for Reginald Clemons is Friday, June 12.

Sample letters can be found HERE. Send to Gov. Nixon (see address above) and a copy to Steve Long, Chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole at 1511 Christy / Jefferson City, MO 65101

For more information contact: JUSTICE for Reggie Campaign (314) 367-5959