Part III: #AutoErase

Belk police

#Auto Erase legislation signed into law by North Carolina Republican Governor Pat McCrory went into effect, December 1, 2015. It was first introduced by state Senator Floyd McKissick who garnered support from his Republican colleagues by including language about identity theft and wrongful identification. The road in North Carolina wasn’t easy. It sailed through the Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives.

“If anyone believes their voice doesn’t matter, they are wrong! When it stalled,” in North Carolina where Charles went to high school, “I asked my mother to have her bridge club friends call, and my high school friends to send emails. Their calls and emails, I believe, helped move the legislation that had sat for months. I received an email from the co-Chairs of the judicial committee and they called to say they were scheduling my legislation. It was voted on and passed.”

I wondered and asked how he moved forward without making it about race. “They were looking for a tall, bald, black man. I fit that description.”

Even I, someone who often steers from the race debate, can see it plainly like those who champion #BlackLivesMatter, that race did play a part in this.  But, in Charles is a valuable “strategy” lesson, often forgotten in the Civil Rights movement discussion.

Activists in the sixties who marched, were often beaten and killed by police officers. But they didn’t turn back.  Their strategy was to bring attention and increase awareness. Their sacrifice made it possible to  advanced landmark Civil Rights legislation.  Fifty years later their efforts also make it possible for Charles to convince a southern legislature to pass #AutoErase legislation.

Today, can be drawn from the sixties today, of Blacks being killed by police officers.  But now, although Officer Darren Wilson got away with the murder of Michael Brown, the Black Lives Matter movement has propelled a national conversation. And we see, body cameras funded by municipalities and states in South Carolina, because of advocacy and an outcry about the senseless murder of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager.

Charles during the interview, said emphatically, “I Survived!” Words Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Oscar Scott and Laquan McDonald and will never say.

Belk FB post
The post, I read before meeting Charles three months later.

“When I talk to high school students, I tell them, if they are in a situation like mine, don’t fight the battle there on the street. In my situation, it didn’t matter. No matter how many degrees I have. Or that I wasn’t involved in a crime. They didn’t want to hear it, they had their guy. Tall, bald and Black. Thankfully, I lived to see another day. That’s what I tell young people, live to see another day, and then fight that battle.”

Charles is fighting that battle by going to conferences like the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) and National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL). This year, both passed policy resolutions supporting #AutoErase.  He intends to use them to get support from other national organizations like the American Bar Association.

#AutoErase will also become the law in Illinois January 1, 2016.  Arizona, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and South Carolina introduced #AutoErase legislation this year. It died in committee in Arizona but will be reintroduced in 2016. The Rhode Island House of Representatives passed it but the Senate did not. It too, will be reintroduced in 2016.   It is still alive in Pennsylvania and South Carolina where legislators will take up the legislation in 2016.

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Draft legislation has been crafted in Michigan by Representative Bert Johnson. In Ohio, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New Jersey and the US Virgin Islands, legislators have promised to introduce it during next year’s legislative sessions.

Former professional tennis player, James Blake’s who was mistakenly tackled and handcuffed by police in a Manhattan hotel just like Charles.  This just another example of overzealous police officers misuse of the public trust because to them someone “fit the description.” The police culture of power has existed too long. It has permeated the upper and lower echelons of our society and should be replaced with the idea of responsibility of protecting not destroying the public trust.

Whether it was the overseer policing slaves, to the officer wearing a cloth over his head, hanging and shooting Blacks, during segregation, it is wrong. Today, with no whip or hood, officers have without repercussion, shot unarmed men and women. Charles survived, but his good name was damaged, at least for a little while, by officers, who said he fit the description.

His journey to right this wrong, has him on a crusade to make sure this never happens to anyone again. He can use your help, so that this doesn’t happen to you, or anyone we know. Please follow his journey, and if you can, support his cause to make #AutoErase the law of the land!

Check out some of the interviews Charles has given about his arrest. And share his story with your friends.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqeqKHHceEwwwYDWknKD5sg

Follow him @CharlesBelk on Twitter and Facebook.  His nonprofit is Fitting the Description and use the #AutoErase and #FittingtheDescription or visit www.fittingthedescription.org.

Stay up to date on what’s going on in your state by sharing your info on these sites. And if you want to help Charles, please reach out to him and/or call your state legislator and find out if they know about #AutoErase. Together, we can make a difference!

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Charles Belk is President/Producer at I Will Make You A Star Productions and Adjucnt Professor Pierce College.  He is the founder of the organization and executive director of Fitting The Description.

Atiba Madyun is President of The Madyun Group (TMG), a Public Affairs firm in Washington, DC and creator of Cognitive Relevance (CR) and Party Politics (PP). Follow him on Twitter @atibamadyun or Like Atiba Madyun on Facebook.

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State of the Union Priorities: A Path Forward

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By Atiba Madyun

This week, I attended a White House briefing on the President’s initiatives addressed in his State of the Union address.  His staff spoke on Cradle to Career education initiatives, My Brother’s Keeper, criminal justice reform, minimum wage and family sick leave.  They emphasized a sense of urgency and that the President has 22 months left to move an agenda focused on strengthening the middle class and investing in America’s future.

On education, the President believes no young person’s zip code should determine his/her future.  While the nation has its highest high school graduation rate ever (80%), it can link its high school dropout rate to 1,300 of the Nation’s schools. Therefore, the President has a new national goal to prepare the next generation(s) for high quality education and a bright future.

To achieve these new goals, it will require greater participation and accountability.  Like the old African proverb, It Takes a Village to raise a child, every child’s grandparents, parents, communities and schools should work collaboratively in this effort.  The President wants to increase America’s rank in providing high quality Pre-K access to high risk children.  Currently, according to Early Education for All, the U.S. ranks 28th out of 38 industrial nations that provide Pre-K and “the achievement gap between low-income children and their affluent peers is growing.[i]

By creating better pathways, students will have a better chance to graduate high school putting them on a pathway to college and enhanced career choices. To close the access gap, we have to address cost and make college more affordable for students that work hard and get good grades.  Opening access and making the first two years of community college free is a way to help students attain a higher education without going deep into debt before starting their career.

Increasing the minimum wage will help many Americans including some college students.  In 2017, 7 million Americans will benefit from minimum wage increases.[ii]  Making family sick leave available so employees working full time get at least seven days of sick leave a year makes sense for the employee and employer.  It can help businesses maintain low turnover while allowing employees to stay home when they are sick so they don’t get coworkers sick.  It also helps employees care for sick loved ones during episodes of illness.

Additionally, protecting and promoting family values also leads to success for America’s youth.  Each day, an average of eight children and teens are killed by guns.  Last year, we heard one too many stories of young men killed by police officers that set off a firestorm of protests.

Recognizing that too many young men are off track, the President one year ago this month, introduced My Brother’s Keeper (MBK).  Later in the year, a month after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, the President issued a challenge to cities, towns and tribes to become “MBK Communities” to implement coherent cradle to college and career strategy to improve outcomes for young people.  It addresses serious concerns in the African American, Hispanic and Native American tribal community.

MBK is seeking to find ways to save young people from a pathway that leads to prison. These are tied to his initiatives for education.  As early as pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, some 4 and 5 year olds have been suspended for negative behavior that can be typical of a child who is developing social-emotional skills. This is not how we should be supporting young children in their early years.  Data shows the nation’s greatest challenges dropout rates, crime, health-care costs, competing in the global marketplace – can be met by focusing on the development of all children, beginning at birth.

The President asserts a child’s future should not be predetermined by his/her zip code.  The Ounce of Prevention Fund research shows that at-risk children who don’t receive a high-quality early childhood education are[iii]:

  • 25% more likely to drop out of school
  • 40% more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50% more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60% more likely to never attend college
  • 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

Early childhood programs are the most cost-effective way to ensure the healthy development of children in poverty and offer the greatest returns to society.In DC, where Pre-K is offered in every elementary school, Councilmember David Grosso recognized this and introduced legislation to positively address this growing trend to protect our 4 and 5 year olds and find better ways to promote positive social and emotional development.

MBK can be a vital instrument in impacting the lives of young American men.  To sustain and create greater opportunities, it is securing corporate, advocacy and community partners to better engage young men.  It is identifying long term solutions to their growth and prosperity in American society.  And all of the President’s cabinet agencies with focus on domestic policy are engaged in this effort.  More importantly, the President has expressed his and the First Lady’s commitment to work on MBK long after they leave the White House.

Mandatory sentencing laws have hurt families for too long.  The President’s staff and the Justice Department are looking for better ways to address re-entry, so that people can re-enter society better equipped to find employment, stay out of prison and empower them with the right to vote.  His Task Force on 21st Century Policing is looking at how billions of dollars are being spent in the militarization of police departments.  Body cameras and collaborative reform are great.  Here is not only a need, but an excellent opportunity on Capitol Hill for bipartisan support.

What the Administration and Congress might also consider is a national database to track the number of times police officers fire their weapons, injure and kill as well as kill unarmed individuals.  While body cameras are a great first step, it is vital to have policy guidelines defining when an officer turns them on and who views the footage.

As Americans, we can study the President’s proposals and look at like a shareholder of a company would.  Whether it is increasing the minimum wage, creating seamless pathways to attaining higher education, protecting our young men and law enforcement officials, providing greater upward mobility opportunities, they all look to strengthen our nation and our economy.  That’s a win-win as an American shareholder and a great way to invest in America’s future!

Atiba

Atiba Madyun is the President of The Madyun Group, a Public Affairs firm based in Washington, DC.

Learn more about My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) www.whitehouse.gov/MBK or visit www.mbk.org.

[i] Early Education for All –  http://www.strategiesforchildren.org/docs_research/14_International.pdf

 [ii] The White House – www.whitehouse.gov/raise-the-wage

 [iii] Ounce of Prevention Fund – http://www.ounceofprevention.org/about/why-early-childhood-investments-work.php