Political Roundup: Bedford Street Fire Update / Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield Talks About the CT Drug Free School Zone Law / R.I.P. Chokwe Lumumba


This column appears in the March 20 – 27 edition of the Hartford News… Community Update:  I would like to thank WPKN 89.5 FM Between the Lines host Scott Harris for having me on his show to discuss the Community Party’s Trayvon Martin Act and our other legislative initiatives, including the Safe Work Environment Act, A Public Bank for Connecticut, and our Action Poverty Conference concept. The podcast of the interview is available in the Counterpoint archive section. http://counterpointradio.org/2014/140310-cp.html Follow Between the Lines on Twitter. https://twitter.com/BTLRadioNews Tomorrow activists will present a letter to Gov. Dannel Malloy regarding abusive workplace conduct at state agencies. More info soon… A teacher has filed a Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities complaint against Principal Steve Perry and Capital Preparatory Magnet School. Check out CP’s No Sellout blog for the press release.  https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/capital-prep-teacher-files-chro-complaint-against-steve-perry-capital-prep/  Stay tuned… Last week in this space we shared an interview with Hartford Fire Department Captain James McLoughlin about the January Bedford Street fire that killed 4-year-old Shantay Drake and her mother, Susan Therrien. https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/the-bedford-street-fire-tragedy-an-interview-with-hfd-captain-james-mcloughlin/  McLoughlin refused to respond to my final question, which was whether or not he would support an ordinance that would require security bars on Hartford residences be equipped with a quick release device that can be opened from the inside. The Philadelphia Fire Department issued a report which recommends that security bars in all residences include this device. http://www.phila.gov/fire/pdfs/Security_Bars_and_Lo.pdf   McLoughlin’s decision to duck this question confirms my belief that addressing the concerns that were raised in the PFD report is not a priority for the HFD or the City of Hartford. Maribel La Luz, Mayor Pedro Segarra’s communications director, was copied on the email exchange between myself and McLoughlin. Stay tuned for updates on this important fire safety issue.
Last week the Connecticut General Assembly Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Raised S.B. 259. This bill would reduce the distance of Drug Free School Zones from 1500 to 200 feet. Senator Gary Holder-Winfield wrote an editorial on the bill which we’ll share in this space.
As legislators we are from time to time confronted with information that renders something we believe and perhaps something we have advocated for moot. When we are confronted with information of this sort we have a choice, which is to stick to the thing we have always said or to go to our constituency and explain why we must change our position. My proposal to reduce the size of Drug Free School Zones presents legislators with such a choice.
Several years back in an effort (and I believe a sincere one) to ensure that our children are safe from predator drug dealers at school, lawmakers instituted Drug Free School Zones. The zones would come to be 1500 foot zones around schools, daycare centers and public housing that provided for an enhanced penalty for the sale or possession of drugs. The thinking was that if we enhance the penalty in these areas where children are likely to be, drug dealers would be likely to stay away from them there.
In action we have seen that for the larger more dense cities like New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport, this does not work. Those cities are so dense that when mapped the whole city becomes a drug free zone and thus there is no differentiation in punishment. The difference which disappears is necessary for the law to be effective. So, some of my colleagues and I have been working to reduce the zones to the point where they protect our children where we want them to be protected.
It seems counterintuitive, but a reduction in the size of drug zones will actually make our children safer (if we believe that drug dealers are targeting schoolchildren). Some may not believe that and so I offer this to think about. Even without these zones there are laws that enhance the penalty and offer mandatory minimums for dealing to a minor or subverting the law by using a minor to deal drugs for you. This in effect makes every child no matter where they are a drug free zone. Legislators may have entered the discussion with an ideology; they are now armed with facts and those facts mean they have a responsibility and that is to educate their constituency about what they now know, and to vote to reduce the size of Drug Free School Zones.
                                                                                                                               Senator Gary Holder-Winfield
                                                                                                                               10th Senate District
                                                                                                                                New Haven, West Haven 
Mayor Segarra’s March 10 State of the City Address did not mention the word poverty once, even though Hartford annually has one of the highest poverty rates in the United States. Segarra also did not mention the serious problem of Black and Latino employment. Segarra talked a lot about improving public safety, but the lack of economic opportunity in low income communities of color is obviously a root cause of gun violence in this city. If Black and Brown people can’t find jobs they will turn to the street economy (drug trade), where violence is an occupational hazard. Reading the text of Segarra’s address made me feel the loss of Jackson, Mississippi Mayor Chokwe Lumumba even more. Lumumba died suddenly last month at the age of 66, eight months into his first term. Lumumba, a Democrat who was a disciple of Fannie Lou Hamer and Malcolm X, was truly this country’s most revolutionary mayor. Lumumba talked about participatory democracy and economic human rights, words that you will not hear come out of Segarra’s mouth. Lumumba was a proponent of using employee owned cooperatives to boost economic development. This model has been successful in Massachusetts, California, Ohio and Oregon, among other states. http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2014/feb/03/jackson-rising-emphasizes-cooperatives/  Despite Lumumba’s death, plans are going forward for Jackson to host the Jackson Rising New Economies Conference May 2nd – 4th. http://www.nesri.org/events/2014/jackson-rising-new-economics-conference  Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, will be a candidate in the April 8th mayoral special election; his plan is to continue the movement that was led by his father. I’ll talk more about the Jackson Rising economic development model in future columns.
This week we’ll share a 2013 Democracy Now! interview with Lumumba following his victory in the Jackson mayoral election.
Just days before the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, the city’s voters have elected longtime black nationalist organizer and attorney Chokwe Lumumba to become mayor. Describing himself  as a “Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat,” Lumumba surprised many political observers by winning the Democratic primary, despite being outspent five to one. He went on to easily win this week’s general election.
Over the past four decades, Lumumba has been deeply involved in numerous political and legal campaigns. As an attorney, his clients have included former Black Panther Assata Shakur and the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. As a political organizer, Lumumba served for years as vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization which advocated for “an independent predominantly black government” in the southeastern United States and reparations for slavery. He also helped found the National Black Human Rights Coalition and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “People should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history,” Lumumba says. “But we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country.”
AMY GOODMAN: In our last segment today, we end in Mississippi.
MEDGAR EVERS: Don’t shop for anything on Capitol Street. Let’s let the merchants down on Capitol Street feel the economic pinch. Let me say this to you. I had one merchant to call me, and he said, “I want you to know that I talked to my national office today, and they want me to tell you that we don’t need nigger business.” These are stores that helped to support the White Citizens’ Council, the council that is dedicated to keeping you and I second-class citizens. Now, finally, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be demonstrating here until freedom comes to Negroes here in Jackson, Mississippi.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Those are the words of the civil rights leader Medgar Evers in May 1963. Just a few weeks later, on June 13th, 1963, Evers was shot dead by a Klansman in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi. Medgar Evers was the state’s first NAACP field secretary. He was killed just hours after President John F. Kennedy delivered a nationally televised speech in which he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time of his death, he was carrying NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go.” Commemorations are being held this month to the mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers.
Well, Jackson Mississippi, is back in the news this week after veteran black nationalist and civil rights attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of the city. He describes himself as a “Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat,” and he surprised many political observers by winning the Democratic primary last month, despite being outspent five to one. Lumumba then easily won the general election on Tuesday. Over the past four decades, Lumumba has been deeply involved in numerous political and legal campaigns. As an attorney, his clients have included former Black Panther Assata Shakur and the late hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur. Two years ago, he helped win the release of the Scott sisters, two young women from Mississippi who received double life sentences for a robbery that netted them $11. They were released after 16 years in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: As a political organizer, Chokwe Lumumba served for years as vice president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization which advocated for “an independent predominantly black government” in the southeastern United States and reparations for slavery. He also helped found the National Black Human Rights Coalition and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and worked with the Jackson Human Rights Coalition to help pressure the state of Mississippi to retry the person who murdered Medgar Evers. In 2009, Lumumba was elected to the Jackson City Council. Chokwe Lumumba, mayor-elect of Jackson, Mississippi, joins us now from Jackson.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Congratulations on your victory. What do you attribute it to, after all these years? And why did you decide, from going—being involved with grassroots organizing for so many decades, to get involved with electoral politics?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Thank you for having me, and a shout out and thank you to your listening audience.
I attribute the victory that we had this last week to the people, the people of Jackson, who were more than ready to have leadership that was forward-looking and ready to raise Jackson to a different level of development, ready to embrace the ideas that all government should do the most to protect the human rights of the people in that jurisdiction. And we were very pleased with the outcoming of people to vote, with their participation, and with their continued support.
We have—I am now running for the mayor—or have, in fact, won the mayor of the city of Jackson, because I think it’s necessary. We are a population here now in the need of a lot of development. Development is one of the tracks or one of the roads to human rights  and to the recognition of human rights, especially our economic human rights. And some of that development is going to take the kind of leadership and the kind of consistency that we had in the struggle for voting rights and other kinds of rights, which has been unique to our history.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Chokwe Lumumba, I’m not sure that many people around the country understand the symbolic—the symbolism of Jackson, Mississippi, as a center of racism and racial oppression over the—really, over centuries. The very name of the city—the city was named after Andrew Jackson by the white settlers when Jackson in 1820 was able, as Indian commissioner, to basically pressure the Choctaw Indians to give up 13 million acres of land and move to Oklahoma in the Treaty of Doak’s Stand. And that’s why the white settlers named the city after Jackson, because of his success at ethnic cleansing. And then, of course, its history throughout the—through slavery and Jim Crow. How did this change occur? How were you able to put this together, this coalition to be elected, given your history as a radical and an activist in the black liberation struggle?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: I think it’s a tribute to our consistency. It’s a tribute to our refusal to say that we would bow to the oppression that was around us. It’s a tremendous story of our people. You talked about Medgar Evers, but the continuation since Medgar Evers of fighting against oppression, fighting against economic oppression, fighting against the kinds of things which have surfaced in our decades, which are similar to the kinds of things you cite in the distant history of Jackson, we have been persistent. And with that persistence, see, our people now are ready to move to a different level of development.
And I should say that people should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history, but we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country. And I want to caution folks that we’ve got to be careful now when we talk about any one particular place in the United States. All over, we’ve seen intense oppression. I’m from Detroit, initially, and we’ve seen a lot of oppression there, historically as well as currently. New York has certainly seen its share. Washington, D.C., has seen its share. So, we don’t want to be like people on different plantations arguing about which plantation is worse. What we have to do is to correct the whole problem, and we’re about correcting the problem here in Jackson. And we’re going to be inviting people to come here, and people want to come here, in order to participate in the struggle forward. And this is not a phony struggle. We’re not just putting a false face on—we tell you we’ve had real problems, and we still have some real problems, but we’re solving these problems, and we’re going to try to solve a lot of them through economic development, which is going to involve the masses of the people, not just a few folks.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about your platform and the Jackson-Kush Plan?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, the platform is to advance the ideas of development and to advance the ideas of empowerment of the populations which exist in the city of Jackson, specifically. We have a population, the demographic here, 80 percent of the population is black, about 20 percent is white. And we have with us brothers and sisters who are of East Indian origin, as well as some Asian and some Hispanic folks coming in. Our slogan was “One city, one aim, one destiny.” And the idea is to blend these populations into a struggle forward. There are some people historically who have always tried to separate the populations and to have a certain portion of the population oppress the rest of the population. We’re not going to tolerate that. We’re going to move ahead. We’re going to let everyone participate in this movement forward. We’re going to invite everyone to participate in this movement forward.
And we have formed like a people’s assembly, that’s key to what we’ve done here, where we have—every three months, the population can come out and participate in an open forum to say what’s on their mind. They can come out and learn some of the problems that the city is facing and some of the solutions that some of the problem solvers are supposed to be offering. And this will bring about more public education and political education to the population of the city, make our population more prepared to be motivated and organized in order to participate in the changes which must occur in the city of Jackson in order to move it forward. We say the people must decide. “Educate, motivate, organize.” That’s the slogan we use for it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the city council, as well, in Jackson, were there other folks who ran on a platform with you? And do you expect much difficulty in getting measures passed through your local city council?
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, no, no, no. I think we’re going to do quite well. And let me say that there’s only one other person who actually ran from the same bases of organization that I come from, which is the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. She was not successful in winning election, but we have really a pretty good city council—I mean, a very good city council, I think, has come into place. We’ve got three young men on the city council who are in their thirties, bright, forward-thinking, very progressive. We have an older brother who is an old school teacher, and he is a person who I think is going to make a contribution to what we’re doing. We have a person from Ward 7, who is a white Democrat, and she has always been consistent in supporting a forward movement. And we have one Republican on the city council from Ward 1, and he is a person who I think understands the political climate and is going to move forward, too.
AMY GOODMAN: Chokwe Lumumba—
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: So I think we’re going to be all right.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. I wanted to ask you quickly about the news in this past month that Assata Shakur has been the first woman to be placed on—by the FBI on the terrorists list. You represented her decades ago. Your thoughts? They’ve also increased the bounty for her—she took refuge in Cuba—to $2 million.
CHOKWE LUMUMBA: Well, I’ve always felt that Assata Shakur was wrongfully convicted, so she shouldn’t be on a wanted list at all. She never should have been in prison. She was actually shot herself and wounded and paralyzed at the time that the person who she was convicted of killing was shot. So she obviously couldn’t have shot him. And she also was arrested, which caused the incident for about eight different charges which she later was found not guilty of or were dismissed. So I think it’s unfortunate. Assata Shakur, I believe, will historically be proven to be a hero of our times, just like—
AMY GOODMAN: Chokwe Lumumba, we’re going to have to leave it there.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor-elect of Jackson, Mississippi. Thanks for joining us.
                   Action Alert (UPDATED): Stop Racial Profiling & Racial Profiling in Connecticut! 

      We need folks to call and email legislators in their districts and urge them to support the Trayvon Martin Act. Identify your legislators by providing your info on this page. http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CGAFindLeg.asp   You can read our Trayvon Act bill language here. https://www.facebook.com/notes/stop-racial-profiling-obey-the-law/community-party-trayvon-martin-act-bill-language/617004948349355     
C    Contact the Labor and Public Employees Committee and tell them to include CP’s Safe Work Environment Act amendments with any workplace bullying legislation introduced in 2014. Our amendments remove the legal requirement for an employee to prove malice and intent by an employer, which is basically impossible. Workers should not have to prove psychological or physical harm. We also want lawmakers to create a workplace bullying advisory board, which would solicit and implement input from public employees when they recommend future legislation. In lieu of a complete workplace bullying bill in 2014 we want an amendment which has been introduced in Nevada by State Sen. Richard Segerblom to be added to the state discrimination law (https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/workplace-bullying-report-2/). This would be done with the understanding that a complete Safe Work Environment Act bill including the aforementioned provisions will be introduced in 2015. Municipal employees should tell committee members to expand the scope of any legislation introduced this year to include city employees, in addition to state workers. City teachers have reported rampant workplace bullying at Capital Preparatory Magnet School.   https://hendu39.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/jonathan-pelto-talks-about-rep-matt-ritters-workplace-bullying-town-hall-january-27/ Call and email labor committee co-chairs Sen. Gary Holder-Winfield and Rep. Peter Tercyak and legislators representing your district.The contact info for committee members can be viewed here.  http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/MemberList.asp?code=LAB
Follow CP on Twitter for state, national and global headlines and updates on the status of our Trayvon Martin Act and Safe Work Environment Act, including action alerts. https://twitter.com/CommunityParty1 Visit our Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/CommunityPartyAction   Listen to WQTQ 89.9 FM for public service announcements on CP’s racial justice initiatives. https://www.facebook.com/wqtqfm Contact us at 860-206-8879 or info.community.party@gmail.com.
Reports on Black and Latino unemployment: 
Connecticut Network video of the 3/12/14 Judiciary Committee public hearing on SB 259, the bill which would reduce Drug Free School Zones from 1500 to 200 feet:
Fannie Lou Hamer’s speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention:
Malcolm X – 1964 Oxford Union Debate:
David Samuels
Community Party

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