Harris: Facts unfolding in probe of alleged Smollett attack
By JUANA SUMMERS
Tuesday, February 19
Sen. Kamala Harris says she won’t comment again on the investigation into a reported attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett until it’s completed.
Speaking Monday to reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, during her first presidential campaign trip to the state, the U.S. senator from California says that “the facts are still unfolding” and that while she is “very concerned” about Smollett’s initial allegation and it should be taken seriously, “there should be an investigation.”
Harris previously tweeted that the alleged attack was “an attempted modern day lynching.” Police in Chicago say their investigation into the report that the actor was attacked by two men yelling slurs has “shifted” after two brothers were questioned and released. Smollett’s lawyers say the actor feels “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault.
The Presidents Day holiday weekend brought Harris and other Democratic presidential candidates to New Hampshire, the state with the first-in-the-nation primary in 2020. Also campaigning in the Granite State were Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York was back in Iowa, the leadoff caucus state. Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, who also is running for president, campaigned in Iowa as well.
Highlights from the trail:
Harris let voters in New Hampshire know that she does not consider herself a democratic socialist — a not-so-veiled distinction setting her apart from New Hampshire voters’ favorite 2016 primary candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Sanders, a potential rival for the party’s 2020 nomination, has described himself as a democratic socialist, and the Vermont independent didn’t abandon the politically fraught label for his previous campaign.
Harris was asked by a reporter whether she would have to tilt her politics leftward — in the direction of democratic socialism — to win the state’s primary. Sanders handily defeated Hillary Clinton when they competed for the state’s delegates three years ago.
“The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire, but I will tell you I am not a democratic socialist,” Harris said in response to the question, posed as she toured Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord ahead of a Portsmouth town hall.
Warren is planning to unveil a universal child care plan that would guarantee American families access to child care.
The U.S. senator from Massachusetts would use part of the revenue from her proposed tax on the ultra-wealthy to fund her child care plan. A person familiar with the plan outlined it ahead of its release Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
Warren’s plan would set up a federal program to guarantee child care from birth until children’s entry into school. Families with income less than 200 percent of the poverty line would get free access. Other families would pay no more than 7 percent of their income.
Her plan would guarantee compensation for child care program workers at rates comparable to public school teachers in their areas.
Gillibrand says it would be an “inappropriate” use of the U.S. military to intervene in Venezuela, a response to President Donald Trump’s warning in a speech in Miami.
Visiting a popular bar near the University of Iowa campus, the New York Democratic senator is weighing a 2020 presidential campaign.
Trump warned Venezuela’s military that if it continues to stand with President Nicolas Maduro’s government it “would find no safe harbor” and that “all options are open.” Critics say Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent, making his second term illegal.
“We should be using diplomatic and political support for the new government and we should consider sanctions against Maduro, but military action is inappropriate in this case,” Gillibrand said.
Earlier, during a visit to Cedar Rapids, Gillibrand stopped short of agreeing with fellow New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comments celebrating Amazon’s plans to cancel building a second headquarters in the state.
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., hailed the cancellation as a day “dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors defeated Amazon’s corporate greed.”
Gillibrand said she thinks Ocasio-Cortez’s point is that subsidies given to Amazon were outrageous, not that she didn’t want the jobs in New York. The senator told reporters that taxpayers were going to be “left holding the bag” and that shows the deal was outrageous.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar says that she comes at gun safety legislation from the perspective: “Would this hurt my Uncle Dick in the deer stand?”
Appearing Monday night at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said her state values the outdoors as well as hunting and fishing.
She said banning assault weapons wouldn’t hurt her Uncle Dick in the deer stand, nor would background checks.
Her voice broke as she recalled the mother of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim describing how her little boy died in the arms of his school aide.
“We should join the majority of Americans and actually many gun owners in having the courage to pass commonsense gun safety legislation,” she said.
Klobuchar referenced the late singer Prince in saying that doctors need to change the prescribing habits of opioids in the United States. Her state still hasn’t gotten over the 2016 death of Prince, she said. One of Minnesota’s most famous residents, he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Klobuchar said the U.S. should pay for addiction treatment by taking money from the drug companies who are selling the opioids.
Associated Press writers Elana Schor in Washington, Juana Summers in Concord, New Hampshire, and Thomas Beaumont in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, contributed to this report.
The death penalty, an American tradition on the decline
February 19, 2019
James Acker, Distinguished Teaching Professor of Criminal Justice, University at Albany, State University of New York
Brian Keough, Co-Director, National Death Penalty Archive, University at Albany, State University of New York
Disclosure statement: James Acker (i.e., the National Death Penalty Archive) receives funding from The Council on Library and Information Resources. In 2017, the Council on Library and Information Resources awarded the NDPA a grant to digitize all of the primary and secondary sources collected by Espy and revise The Espy File. Brian Keough (i.e., the National Death Penalty Archive) from receives funding from The Council on Library and Information Resources. In 2017, the Council on Library and Information Resources awarded the NDPA a grant to digitize all of the primary and secondary sources collected by Espy and revise The Espy File.
Partners: University at Albany, State University of New York provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Capital punishment has been practiced on American soil for more than 400 years. Historians have documented nearly 16,000 executions, accomplished by burning, hanging, firing squad, electrocution, lethal gas and lethal injection. An untold number of others have doubtlessly occurred yet escaped recognition.
We helped create the University at Albany’s National Death Penalty Archive, a rich repository of primary source material encompassing the long and growing history of the death penalty.
Capital punishment has long been and continues to be controversial, but there is no disputing its historical and contemporary significance. More than 2,700 men and women are currently under sentence of death throughout the U.S., although they are distributed in wildly uneven fashion. California’s death row, by far the nation’s largest, tops out at well over 700, while three or fewer inmates await execution in seven states.
Executions similarly vary markedly by jurisdiction. Texas has been far and away the leader over the last half century, with five times as many executions as the next leading state.
We established the National Death Penalty Archive to help preserve a record of the country’s past and current capital punishment policies and practices, and to ensure that scholars and the general public can gain access to this critical information.
The archive currently holds numerous collections from diverse sources, including academics, activists, litigators and researchers. We remain open to new donations of materials relating to capital punishment. The materials are stored in a climate-controlled environment and are accessible to the public.
One of our prized collections is the voluminous set of execution records compiled by M. Watt Espy Jr. Espy spent more than three decades, encompassing the 1960s into the 1990s, traversing the countryside, collaborating with others to uncover primary and secondary sources documenting more than 15,000 executions carried out in the U.S. between the 1600s and the late 20th century. Espy’s data set has since been updated to include information on executions through 2002.
The National Death Penalty Archive houses the court records, newspaper articles, magazine stories, bulletins, photographs and index cards created for each execution that Espy and his assistants painstakingly collected. These items vividly capture this unparalleled history of executions within the American colonies and the U.S.
Among those documented is the 1944 electrocution in South Carolina of George Stinney Jr., who at age 14 was the youngest person punished by death during the 20th century. Seventy years later, a South Carolina judge vacated Stinney’s conviction, ruling that he did not receive a fair trial.
In July, after the documents are fully digitized, the National Death Penalty Archive will make all of Espy’s materials available online.
Another prized holding consists of nearly 150 boxes of materials from Eugene Wanger. As a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention, Wanger drafted the provision prohibiting capital punishment that was incorporated into the state constitution in 1961.
For more than 50 years, Wanger compiled a treasure trove of items spanning the 18th through 21st centuries relating to the death penalty, including numerous rare documents and paraphernalia. Among the thousands of items in the extensive bibliography are copies of anti-capital-punishment essays written by Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Rush shortly after the nation’s founding.
We also have collected the work of notable scholars. For example, the National Death Penalty Archive houses research completed by the late David Baldus, known primarily for his analysis of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty; the writings of the late Hugo Adam Bedau, perhaps the country’s leading philosopher on issues of capital punishment; and the papers of the late Ernest van den Haag, a prolific academic proponent of capital punishment.
The National Death Penalty Archive additionally contains more than 150 clemency petitions filed on behalf of condemned prisoners, as well as materials relating to notable U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Ford v. Wainwright, prohibiting execution of the insane, and Herrera v. Collins, in which the justices were asked to rule that the Constitution forbids executing an innocent person wrongfully sentenced to death.
On the decline
The recent history of capital punishment in the U.S. has been marked by declining popularity and usage. Within the past 15 years, eight states have abandoned the death penalty through legislative repeal or judicial invalidation.
The number of new death sentences imposed annually nationwide has plummeted from more than 300 in the mid-1990s to a fraction of that – just 42 – in 2018. Last year, there were 25 executions in the U.S., down from the modern-era high of 98 in 1999.
Meanwhile, public support for capital punishment as measured by the Gallup Poll registered at 56 percent in 2018, compared to its peak of 80 percent in 1995. Only a few counties, primarily within California and a few southern states, are responsible for sending vastly disproportionate numbers of offenders to death row.
What these trends bode for the future of the death penalty in the U.S. remains to be seen. When later generations reflect on the nation’s long and complicated history with the death penalty, we hope that the National Death Penalty Archive will offer important insights into the currents that have helped shape it.
Virginia politics: The uneasy marriage of new liberalism and historic racism
February 15, 2019
Author: Julian Maxwell Hayter, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies, University of Richmond
Disclosure statement: Julian Maxwell Hayter does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Richmond provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Virginia is home to America’s original contradiction – the peculiar juxtaposition of slavery and freedom.
The recent “blue-ing” of Virginia has obscured a sobering political reality: Racial progress and racial bigotry can exist at the same time.
Those contradictions were on display when Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently admitted to, and subsequently denied, being photographed in blackface in the early 1980s.
Northam is the latest elected official to fan the flames of America’s tortured racial history.
The Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook photo shows a man in blackface standing next to a person in Ku Klux Klan attire. This image, nearly three decades old, ignited a chain of nationwide commentary on the current state of American race relations.
The photo represents another sobering reminder of old bigotry in contemporary politics.
And while racist political power is not specific to Virginia, the “Old Dominion” is, and has been, a bellwether for American politics – the good and the bad, but mostly the contradictory.
As a historian of 20th-century American history and Richmond, Virginia’s recent political history, these contradictions have contemporary connotations.
Reconciliation and dehumanization
Despite its recent history of voting Democratic, ambivalent political traditions continue to characterize the Commonwealth. The home of the Confederacy’s capital, Richmond, also gave the United States its first African-American governor in 1990, Lawrence Douglas Wilder.
Virginia also helped elect Barack Obama, twice.
But in the late 19th century, Southerners and Virginians met the challenges of slavery’s abolition with legal and social racial separation. This separation, commonly referred to as Jim Crow segregation, was not only sanctioned by state laws, many of these laws lasted until the late 1960s.
In other words, Southern black Americans were not full citizens of the United States until the 1960s and Jim Crow mitigated many African-Americans’ upwardly mobile aspirations.
Northam, who campaigned on racial reconciliation yet allegedly once wore a costume inextricably linked to black dehumanization, embodies this American dilemma – a dilemma with deeply segregationist overtones.
That Virginia, the wealthiest state of the former Confederacy, has recently turned blue is a watershed moment in American political development.
When the Commonwealth went for Obama in the 2008 presidential election, Virginians ended nearly four decades of conservative control over Southern presidential politics. Virginia also cast all its 13 electoral votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Much of this is attributable to the growth and diversifying of populations in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., the Hampton Roads region and the Richmond metropolitan area.
Virginia’s recent elections undeniably helped shatter the Southern Strategy, a long-term Republican plan designed to break Democrats’ dominance over Southern politics. A region that has trended red since the ratification of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had turned blue.
But developments in national politics cannot alone explain Northam’s and Attorney General Mark Herring’s ostensibly contradictory behavior. Herring – the state’s third-most powerful elected official – also recently admitted to donning blackface.
If blackface is inextricably linked to slavery, people wearing blackface in the 1980s is attributable to racial segregation. In understanding this crisis, Virginia’s history matters.
Segregation and the suburbs
Virginia’s 20th-century political history is nothing short of scandalous.
Poll taxes (a fee required to vote) determined who voted in the Commonwealth until 1966. Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1901-02 eventually erased 80 percent of African-Americans and 50 percent of whites from the polls. Throughout the early 20th century, the Commonwealth had the lowest voter turnout rate in America and one of the lowest rates of any free democracy in the world. By 1959, the year of Northam’s birth, these obstacles to democracy continued to shape politics in the Commonwealth.
The undemocratic face of disenfranchisement had grave implications for Northam’s generation.
In fact, disenfranchisement ensured that mid-20th century Virginians inherited an oligarchy – a small number of people controlled the political structure.
A handful of well-heeled segregationists used disenfranchisement to spearhead Southern “massive resistance” to public school integration in 1956. Anxiety over integration gave rise to unprecedented white flight to suburbs – not just in Virginia, but throughout America.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the same officials used the power vested in the General Assembly to clear urban slums, build freeways – often through communities whose voters had been disenfranchised – and compress the descendants of former slaves into isolated public housing projects. While these urban policies shaped cities throughout the United States, Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement expedited this process in Virginia (and throughout the South).
By 1970, Richmond’s poverty rate was 25 percent. African-Americans bore the brunt of that poverty.
The city’s public schools were nearly 80 percent African-American by 1980. In 1985, Richmond trailed only Detroit in murder rate per capita. Between 1970 and 1980 alone, approximately 40,000 whites – of roughly 140,000 in 1970 – fled to Richmond’s suburbs.
In other words, segregationists, along with federal officials, helped create the inner city and suburban growth at the same time.
Progress isn’t linear
Americans remember the story of the civil rights movement as a triumph of democracy. History speaks otherwise.
Many of Virginia’s cities were more segregated by race and class in 1980 than in 1960.
In time, segregation undermined the types of social trust – the notion that people can understand and count on one another – that experts argue is required for thriving communities.
It also explains how students from racially homogeneous communities populated Virginia’s predominantly white colleges during the 1980s.
These were the colleges where students such as Northam wore blackface. The Virginia Military Institute, Northam’s alma mater, did not integrate until 1968. That was only 13 years before Northam graduated from the institute in 1981.
These places were in short supply of racial diversity well into the late 20th century. They remind Americans that nowhere have white and black Americans been closer together, yet further apart, than beneath the Mason-Dixon line.
The new divide
More ominously, the politics of segregation outlived Jim Crow laws.
By the 1980s, white flight and congressional redistricting (namely, the compression of black voters into exclusively urban enclaves) hastened the rise of regional partisanship. And while this rise in partisanship characterized American politics broadly, it hit the South and Virginia hard – a region that Democrats dominated for nearly seven decades.
As African-Americans hitched their wagons to Democrats, many whites fled the Democratic Party. They left a party that was once home to generations of Southern racists who would never contemplate belonging to Abraham Lincoln’s GOP, and became Republicans.
Virginia’s policymakers drew district boundaries to protect these white areas from the voting power of urbanites, who were mostly black.
In time, residential segregation and redistricting gave rise to shockingly predictable electoral outcomes. Cities trended liberal, while rural and suburban areas mostly voted conservatively.
Between 1970 and 1988, only 13 African-Americans had served on Virginia’s General Assembly. Yet, African-Americans made up nearly 20 percent of Virginia’s population in the 1980s. The total number of African-Americans in the General Assembly did not exceed five until 1984.
To this day, a disproportionate number of the Commonwealth’s legislators are from rural and suburban enclaves.
Liberal in blackface
Governor Northam not only inherited this Virginia, he was a product of it.
Millennial voters are relocating to once-predominantly African-American cities and the so-called “Great Inversion” out of American suburbs continues.
The once “solid South” is up for grabs.
Political consultants have long recognized and exploited these changes. In fact, these trends changed the political composition of not just Virginia, but America.
Yet old habits die hard.
The re-emergence of Confederate memorialization and white supremacy in Virginia is a panic reaction to these political and demographic developments.
Is it any wonder, then, that a son of the segregated Virginia might wear blackface in one era – yet recognize the political expediency of racial reconciliation in another?
Chris Hughes, logged in via Google: Blackface is the jolly side of racism. Here in the UK, a TV show called “The Black and White Minstrel Show” ran for 20 years. Wikipedia says, “The show was accused of racism and ethnic stereotyping by black civil rights groups in the UK, such as the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, due to its use of blackface. This racial controversy led to the programme’s eventual cancellation from television in 1978, although a stage version ran for ten years after the show’s cancellation at Victoria Palace Theatre, London. This was followed by tours of Australia and New Zealand.” Unbelievable, right?