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.

Enough is Enough

Atiba

by Atiba Madyun

Very saddened to hear about the shooting in Charleston.  Unfortunately, it reminded me of the church bombing in Birmingham in 1963.

The gun culture in America has to be reformed.

America’s history is entwined so much in violence. Our country was created and founded in a document of war declaring our independence from England.

It took a war within to end the culture of slavery in our nation.

When we seek to level our playing fields ie. women’s right to vote and to end segregation it often came after a fight to end its oppression.

All of this including reading today that police officers (who carry guns) in Alabama with links to the KKK have been suspended.

The culture of hate in our nation is not spiraling, it is out of control. To those who believe every citizen has the right to bear arms I agree with you. But I don’t believe that every citizen or any citizen needs to own a gun. More and more, I believe most police officers should not be armed with a gun.

As a nation, we are at times respected and at times feared and at other times hated because of the power of our weaponry.

As a leader in the global community, it will take our citizens as we have many times before, coming together to end the gun culture as we know it.

It will take citizens coming together to champion for a society not predicated on violence, but one reformed by the recognition that if we don’t…..we will continue to have shootings like New Town, Connecticut where innocent little children and teachers were killed.

Or Arizona, where former Congresswoman Giffords was shot.

Or more Columbines and Virginia Techs. Or senseless killings in Chicago, DC and NY of innocent citizens and innocent police officers.

Or more shootings of young people like Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin or Walter Scott.

Or more shootings like the one last night in Charleston, SC…..

Enough is enough. Let’s not make this one about race even if it is!

Let’s make this about the billion dollar gun culture in America that makes people think they have power over someone else.

Let’s not make this about hate. Let’s make this about the serious mental illness we have in this country.

Let’s make this about something bigger than what we see on the surface.

Let’s make this about US. A nation seeking to become a more perfect Union.

May God Bless The United States of America!

#CharlestonShooting #AllLivesMatter #America #Guns

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

We Cannot Move On Until…….

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I was as many others were, disappointed that a grand jury failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed Michael Brown.  But I wasn’t empathetic after seeing the convenience store surveillance footage taken minutes before his death, where he stole a $48 box of cigarillos.  Truthfully, I wasn’t empathetic because too often, I see young men like Michael and his friend give law enforcement, teachers and others in positions of authority a hard time.  I see them on the metro and in malls loud and disrespectful of others around them.

I am empathetic to this though, Michael was unarmed.  The grand jury’s failure to indict Wilson is an indictment of our lenient American law enforcement policies.  That is why today, we see another officer Daniel Pantaleo in New York City cleared for his role in the stranglehold death of unarmed Eric Garner.

Is this a trend?  It is reminiscent of stories of slaves who tried to escape the bondage of slavery, but when caught were hung from trees and murdered.  It brings forth the sad image of the lifeless young body of Emmitt Till lying in a casket after he was killed for whistling at a woman.  In far too many cases like these, their murderers go unpunished.

That is why today, an overdue conversation on American relations is at the forefront of discussion on media outlets here and abroad.  Michael and Eric aren’t the first young unarmed American men to be killed by police officers who weren’t indicted or convicted.  What about Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Stansbury, Jr or Sean Bell?  That is why it was good to hear President Obama say today what many of us believe, “this is an American problem.”

I don’t agree with any of the violent protests or the yelling going on in Ferguson.  But I understand the root frustration of it.  Too often it takes this type of protest to get the empathy and support of others.  Today’s conversation is eerily too similar to video images from the civil rights era, where police officers and White men got away too often for killing unarmed young men because of the color of their skin.

It is sad that it takes instances like Ferguson to turn the tide of despair into hope.  History shows that empathy from fellow Americans didn’t come until they saw images of police officers turning fire hoses, dogs and guns on unarmed Americans marching for civil rights long denied them because of the color of their skin.

That is why we cannot move on until the conversation in Ferguson becomes about something more than race.  This is about America and how we treat one another as human beings.  It has to call into question why the behavior of our young men, makes it difficult for others to see their humanity.  Truly, why has friction grown so evident between our young men and police officers?  Is there an image problem?

My brothers and I talked about this over the weekend as we celebrated my brother Damani’s 40th birthday.   He said that Black men don’t have an image problem rather we have a branding problem.  I found this to be an interesting statement since I think they are one and the same?

Image is everything.  That is why I have never seen the dignity in wearing pants off the waste line down to the knees, or thick steel toed boots unless there is snow or it is cold, hoodies, huge gold chains or having unkempt hair and long beards.  While this is a personal choice, why would anyone want to dress or look like this?  In my opinion and siding with my brother on this, it is an image that has become a uniform and branded by some as “thuggish”.

On the other hand, police officers wearing uniforms are seen as threatening to these young men and the friction and fear on both sides has risen to a level of hostility that leads to senseless deaths.  That is why we should call it what it is “a war on American streets.”

How did our young men go from wearing saggy pants during slavery to suits and back to pants now falling around their knees?  If the conversation about Ferguson and young unarmed American men being killed is about race isn’t it important to look at how Americans put their best image or brand forward?  If this is true, then both young men who dress this way and police officers in uniform going to work every day, both have an image or branding problem.

The conversation about unarmed American men being killed by police officers requires introspection in order to move forward.  It is one that will be uncomfortable for everyone.  As my friend Chris Finan said responding to my post about the five St. Louis Rams players, who courageously put their hands up in solidarity with protestors in Ferguson just before their game this past Sunday,

“This is exactly the point. White privilege allows us white folks to decide not to have the discussion. We can walk away whenever we want and get along with our day. Those players for the Rams that made that statement were all black. They were in their uniforms so everyone loves them and cheers for them. However, let one of them be walking down the street in plain clothes and be dealt the same racism that happened in Ferguson. That’s why they did what they did and they had every right to do it. It was exactly the best platform for them to make that statement. Anyone who’s uncomfortable with that truly has no idea why everyone is so upset about what happened in Ferguson. It’s about the bigger issue. That’s why we need to have the discussion and not walk away when it feels uncomfortable.”

The issues in the American Black community are prevalent in other communities.  Far too many American families are led by single mothers.  While many single mothers are doing the best they can to raise their children and our hats go off to them, too many should not have to.  Too many of our young men are being raised without a father in the home.  Therefore too many, lack the guidance only a father can provide, no matter how hard the mother tries.  The American value system has lost respect for the traditional family.  If it hadn’t, more Americans would voice their outrage that programs like Housewives, Basketball Wives, Honey Boo Boo, and the Kardashians are doing nothing more than making these families wealthier, while too many of us watching are becoming poorer.

The issues of race, the division in politics and in communities near and far are a byproduct of our value system.  We see this in the lack of class exhibited by elected officials in Congress with their lack of respect for the President and even more for holding Americans hostage over their senseless debates and failure to come together to advance causes that benefit all Americans.  Our current value system divides us along party lines, race, religion and gender.

If the conversation in Ferguson is to yield anything of significant consequence, it will take level heads, moderators and leaders who can get us to take the high road.  Further they will elevate the conversation beyond Black and White and who is to blame and help us find solutions.

The conversation in Ferguson requires language that will unite us and bring us together as a nation.  It cannot be about another black man being killed.  The language has to be that another young MAN was killed and taken away from his parents when he was too young.  Making him just a black man diminishes that he was a man just like any other man, irrespective of color.  An officer who kills an unarmed young MAN is wrong and should go to jail!  Michael, Oscar, Sean, Eric and the countless other MEN who have been killed were someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s husband, someone’s friend.

Too many young MEN are being killed and their killers are not being punished.  We cannot move on until we address this as a human rights issue that transcend race.  It goes beyond the idea of civility.  In the end, when it is all said and done, do the lives of the victims and their families find the justice they deserve if we don’t call into question about how we treat one another with dignity.  Last, how will our lives be defined?  Will it be how we lived as Blacks, Whites, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian and Jew?  Or how we lived our lives “being human” to one another?

It is my belief that we cannot move forward until we accept that our humanity binds us in ways that the different colors of our skin cannot.  The lives of those who have been slain will again be in vain, if we don’t realize that.  Can we finally find a way to move on together?

What do you think?