At a time that we need more justice and access to democracy, the Black Misleadership Class is fighting for more prisons and tawdry police reforms under the guise of equity and Black liberation.
Last week on the corporate-owned MSNBC’s flagship daily program, Morning Joe, eponym of lead anchor, Joe Scarborough, the specter of a new era of mass incarceration led by the Democratic party was broadcasted on full display. Scarborough, a former GOP Congressman, became apoplectic during a segment discussing the recent rise in crime taking place in major cities across the United States. The catalyst of his conniption was recent remarks made by Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, who, at a recent press conference, in part, offered, “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness, we don’t have a crisis of crime, we don’t have a crisis of violence.”.
To vindicate his chagrin, Scarborough cited a recent Op-Ed written by former Philadelphia Mayor, Michael Nutter in response to Krasner’s comments. Therein, Nutter accused Krasner of possessing, “a certain audacity of ignorance and white privilege.” He went on to posit, “I have to wonder what kind of messed up world of white wokeness Krasner is living in to have so little regard for human lives lost, many of them Black and Brown, while he advances his own national profile as a progressive district attorney.” In the same piece, Nutter also decried, “Words matter. Words impact, and trigger, and hurt. Words mean something from elected officials.”
For real? This from the same Nutter who, while channeling his inner Bill Cosby, once declared, during a sermon at church no less, to Philly Black folk, "You've damaged yourself, you've damaged your peers, and, quite honestly, you've damaged your own race." And in doing so, Nutter rendered the sacred sabbath into a minstrel show to appease his white donors, white constituents, and the Democratic Leadership brass including DNC Plantation elder, former Governor, and Dem Negro Kingmaker, Ed Rendell.
Nutter continued his diatribe of Negro castigation during a radio appearance and blamed parents, solely, for the plight of far too many Black and Brown youth offering, "This is not a police problem. This is a challenge to all of us in the community." Perhaps this is why rather than disrupting the root causes of a Black youth unemployment rate that journalist Dean Schoen referred to as, “an unspoken national crisis,” Nutter instead unleashed a draconian iteration of “Stop and Frisk” so nefarious, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania sued the City of Philadelphia alleging, “thousands of people each year are stopped, frisked, searched, and detained solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity by the Philadelphia Police Department as part of its stop-and-frisk policy.” It’s safe to say that Nutter continued the tradition of police terror that reached its apotheosis under former Philadelphia Mayor, Frank Rizzo, whose name remains a symbol of infamy for his role in the fire bombing of Black liberation organization MOVE in 1985.
Scarborough then turned to his boy and good friend, also employed by MSNBC, Reverend Al Sharpton, who is also President of the National Action Network. After basically painting Black and Brown communities as indigent war zones filled with savages on the frontline of, “an epidemic of crime” [Hillary Clinton must have been blushing as this made her infamous “superpredator” quip almost innocuous], Scarborough pounced on the concept of, “white wokeness,” which in his mind is the progenitor of abolitionist theory - and “the Rev,” was happy to vindicate this silly syllogism, with a pithy respite, “Well, if this is wokeness, they must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed.”
Rather than check and educate Scarborough, Sharpton doubled and tripled down referring to, “Latte Liberals,” and accusing them and white progressives of being out of touch with the mainstream of democratic voters - especially Black and Brown voters. We have to ask ourselves: who is really out of touch when Sharpton and Scarborough essentially erased the role and scholarship that Black people have brought to the cause of abolition for literal centuries? And after his ignominious episode with Tawana Brawley, Sharpton should know better than anyone about the pitfalls of misogynoir, which he contributed to by invisibilizing the work of brilliant thinkers like Ruth Wilson Gilmore who recommends, “Instead of asking whether anyone should be locked up or go free, why don’t we think about why we solve problems by repeating the kind of behavior that brought us the problem in the first place.”
Contrary to Scarborough and Sharpton’s ignorant claims of “white wokeness,” those calling for abolition include multi-racial scholars, grassroots organizers, policy advocates and other justice seekers. They are not solely about the extirpating of prisons, nor the complete evisceration of police as they contemporaneously call for engendering a care economy rooted in regenerative and feminist principles that ostracize inequalities - racial, gender, wealth/income, ability, etc…- instead of people. And true abolitionists contend that the root causes of “crime” must be rooted out including lack of access to clean air and water, lack of opportunity, and lack of being seen and viewed as human.
Thankfully, there are local Black leaders in Philadelphia who understand where Krasner, who is by no means perfect and certainly problematic in some cases, was coming from. Paula Peebles, who, ironically is the Pennsylvania President and Philadelphia Chair of the National Action Network, recently wrote a piece defending Krasner’s comments. Therein she writes, “We, who are in the streets, understood exactly what Krasner was referencing with his recent statements about news media distracting from the real crisis of gun violence. We have a gun crisis and a justice crisis in Philadelphia and this nation when it comes to Black lives, Black bodies.”
Peebles goes on to explain that she stands with Krasner and voted for him to serve a second term in an effort to undo years of harm caused by bad cops and the Democrats who granted them impunity for the terror, intimidation and crimes against humanity directed towards Black residents of Philadelphia. She also reminds us that it was Nutter who oversaw the mass closings of public schools and public libraries while doing nothing to extricate innocent Black women and men during his tenure as Mayor, “Nutter really showed us who he is by echoing the criticisms of Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby, who defends cops who kill unarmed Black men and calls Black Lives Matter protesters "convicted thugs” and "animals.”
And while interviews with bootlickers like Sharpton and lifting up the myopic opinions of failed Black lawmakers like Nutter may seem innocuous, Black folk must be hypervigilant and proactive.
Glen Ford in his recent and posthumous book (which includes an excellent preface by the Sister Comrade and Editor, Margaret Kimberley) reminds us of the “Black Misleadership” class - a term he coined to act as an admonishment for Black people who continue to vote for a political party that operates more like a political plantation. This is especially evident in the inadequate leadership of the Black Misleadership class and their calls for police reforms as Sharpton recently did on Scarborough’s show. They don’t understand as Mariame Kabba (not exactly a purveyor of white wokeness or white progressivism) explains, “There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against Black people…the surest way of reducing police violence is to reduce the power of the police, by cutting budgets and the number of officers.” And journalists like Rachel Kushner also seem to understand, more than many Black lawmakers, that increasing the number of prisons increases harm more than they decrease crime, “in the United States, we now have more than two million incarcerated people, a majority of them black or brown, virtually all of them from poor communities. Prisons not only have violated human rights and failed at rehabilitation; it’s not even clear that prisons deter crime or increase public safety.”
Black folk would do well to understand that the verbal fodder coming from the Black Misleadership class of the Democratic party is exactly the rhetoric and impetus they need to assist mainly white House Representatives in competitive 2022 races to run on a “Tough on Crime” platform, and usher in a 21st Century version of Biden and Clinton’s Crime Bill, all in an effort to assuage and mollify the fears of white folk and neoliberal people of all races/ethnicities. The Democrats are showing, as they did in 1994, that they are perfectly willing to sacrifice more Indigenous, Black, and Brown bodies to the execrable conditions of a carceral state, driven by the Prison Industrial Complex, to retain a voting majority in the House of Representatives.
Such a velocitous paradigm shift from “Black Lives Matter” to Black Lives are Expendable could only be pulled off by the de facto anti-Black Democratic party and their Black sycophants who allow their strings to be pulled by alabaster puppet masters like Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Joe Biden and allow themselves to be beguiled by the King of the House [of Representatives] Negroes, James Clyburn who continues to guide far too many Black lawmakers to the DNC Plantation like his own form of 1619. Until Black folk are willing to go on a general strike with their votes, they can expect nothing more than Kente cloth photo ops, empty rhetoric and vacuous pontification in lieu of policies that will actually emancipate Indigenous Black, Brown, and poor white folk from a vortex of penury and the suppression of a carceral state that treats them as disposable people.
In 2020 the Black Misleadership Class took a knee, but as they are showing us in 2021 via feckless blathering from Sharpton, Nutter, Clyburn, and far too many others, when they won’t even fight to preserve the right of Black people to keep voting for them in the first place, they need to take a seat.
Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright is a national racial and climate justice advocate. He currently serves as the Director of Environmental Justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and has previously. He is blessed to be the father of his six-year-old son, Zahir Cielo and the opinions expressed in this piece are his own.