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Lynching Statement by GOP Senator is no Laughing Matter

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Everyday bold racist statements emerge in the media. A recent appalling racist statement was made by Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. She praised support for someone by saying: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” As an African American who is a descendant of slaves, I can never get used to the bigoted statements and bigotry in the U.S.  In response, Hyde-Smith says “any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous.” She’s running in a run-off election against Mike Epsy, an African American and former Congressman.

I don’t know what Hyde-Smith thinks about a public lynching. But I can tell her that it’s no joking matter—now or never. It is a negative part of U.S. history.   Billy Holliday sang Strange Fruit in which the lyrics describe lynching of Blacks in the south. Those words in part were:

“Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”

“Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh”

During the 1800’s and well into the 1900’s lynching of Blacks in the south and beyond was almost like a national past time. The forms of lynching varied from hanging, burning, tarring or splitting with a hatchet, to name a few. The purpose was to punish and terrorize African Americans. African Americans were lynched due to hatred by whites and a distorted fear of Blacks refusing to stay in their place.

Senator Hyde-Smith is consciously using her hanging analogy to remind racist white supporters that Espy is not in his place. The lynching of community leaders were most common in the period of 1915 and 1940 to remind Blacks to stay in their place—of below, beneath, behind and after white Americans. That is the essence of white supremacy.

Lynchings often escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community in places such as Mississippi. The Equal Justice Initiative researched and found 4084 racial terror lynchings in 12 southern states and 300 in other states, including California from the period between 1877-1950. Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings. Counties in Mississippi were sites of mass killings of African Americans in single-incident violence.

Senator Hyde-Smith’s racist remarks harkens back to a time in history when lynchings were mainstream and whites wanted a front row view just to see a Black person lynched. In places like Mississippi, during the height of lynching, public lynchings often held white spectators of 500-1000 and sometimes upwards of 2,000 or more. Hyde-Smith is saying if she lived during this time that she would have been on the front row.

During the high period of lynchings in the U.S., many were carnival-like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. This is what Hyde-Smith wanted to watch. And during the height of lynching in the U.S., spectators watching included elected officials and prominent citizens while white press coverage regularly a lynching. No one was brought to justice for a public hanging of a Black person.

These killings were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a clear message that African Americans were less than human. The message behind Hyde-Smith’s statement is clear and resonates with many whites today. These bold racist statements have no place in politics or anywhere else in the U.S. Ever since the election of Trump, many white persons feel emboldened to publicly make such racist comments.

On November 27, 2018 Mississippians should send a clear message to Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. The message to Hyde-Smith should be the joke is on her by voting her out of office.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer, legal and political commentator and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Sorry Camille Cosby but Bill Cosby was not Lynched

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

BlackManLynchedNAACPCamille Cosby broke her silence today following her husband’s conviction when she wrote a scathing attack on the justice system comparing Bill Cosby’s, conviction to a “lynching”, “mob justice” or to Emmett Till.  Cosby who was tried and convicted on three counts of sexual assaults on Andrea Constand, after a first jury failed to reach a verdict.  Mrs. Cosby’s misunderstanding of the words “lynching” and “mob justice” deserves a teaching moment for her and perhaps many others who might be confused.

 

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened on April 26, 2018 in downtown Montgomery, Alabama and is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Blacks who lost their lives through lynching.  It depicted the over 4000 known lynchings that were held in this country of mostly African Americans from post slavery to 1950.  And when it opened, some questioned why a memorial on lynching was necessary. Comments like Camille Cosby’s show there is a need for the public to be aware of the atrocities of lynching.

First, Mr. Cosby got not only one trial but two fair trials.  The first jury deliberated over 56 hours before a mistrial was declared.  Those who were lynched in this country were neither given a trial, jury or judge to determine their fate. Instead an angry mob of white individuals hung them up to die on a tree, usually first torturing them.  Throngs of white persons, including law enforcement and children watched as the lynchings took place.  Persons were lynched for any perceived slight to a white man or woman.

The Equal Justice Initiative researched many of the lynchings that occurred post slavery in 1877 until the 1950’s. Some of those lynchings were as a result of multiple single incident lynchings—where lynching one Black person was not enough. Counties in Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina had the highest single but mass incidents of lynchings. Some lynchings were observed by mob crowds over 2,0000 persons attending such as ones held on the eastern shore of Maryland in 1933.  There were never any convictions or arrests.

As far as Camille Cosby’s comparison to her husband’s conviction to lynching, she and others should be mindful that many lynchings occurred on the court house lawn.  I see no resemblance there to Cosby’s trial. While Cosby was convicted of sexual transgressions over a white woman before a jury of both Blacks and whites, victims of lynchings never received a trial. Persons like General Lee in 1904 was lynched for merely knocking on the door of a white woman. In 1889, Keith Bowen was lynched by an entire white neighborhood for trying to enter a room with three white women. In 1916, Jeff Brown was lynched in Mississippi  for accidently bumping into a white woman as he ran to catch a bus.

If Bill Cosby were Emmett Till, at the first mention of a sexual assault on a white woman, he would have been lynched.  Till, 12 years old, was lynched for either looking, whistling or doing nothing at all to a white woman.  If Cosby had been comparable to Till, at the first instance of an account by a white victim, he would have been lynched.

I hate to hear when persons compare themselves or their situation to a lynching. Clarence Thomas did it at his Senate confirmation hearings when he referred to himself as being involved in a “high tech lynching”.  To make a modern day court room trial comparison or Senate confirmation hearing akin to a lynching does enormous dishonor to those  persons who lost their lives as a result of real mob justice and real lynchings. .

The reason for the Peace and Justice memorial on lynching is to honor those whose lives were taken away in brutal lynchings.  And it is also to bring awareness to what lynching and mob justice did to Black Americans. For those who cannot travel to Alabama to see the memorial, a trip to the website of the Equal Justice Initiative for its report on lynching in America will also bring awareness to our country’s ugly past.  Perhaps when Camille Cosby gets some free time on her hands away from her husband, she might want to travel or read to see what a real lynching looked like.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and legal/political commentator.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 Years Later: What’s Changed?

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing on the Lorraine hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. In the wake of 50 years since his assassination, with the Trump era, white supremacy uprisings, police shootings of unarmed African Americans, disenfranchisement of Black convicted felons and mass incarceration, many are left wondering if anything has changed in 50 years or changed for the worse. In order to reflect on the 50 years, one must begin with a look back at the years before Martin Luther King’s rise in civil rights era.

Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights movement from approximately 1955 until his death in 1968—a short 13 years. In those 13 short years, King’s leadership with others accomplished more than had been accomplished in the 350 years since Blacks first arrived in the U.S. Throughout the U.S. African Americans were treated as less than 2nd class citizens. Separate but equal was the law. In the year before King’s rise, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal was no longer the law in public education. Before Linda Brown’s case, Blacks were denied the right to attend public schools with whites.

Beyond schools, discrimination and desegregation existed in public accommodations in all forms of transportation, hotels, restaurants, parks, swimming pools, stores and anywhere the public and whites were involved. The biggest impediment to Blacks was the denial of the right to vote under Jim Crow laws in the south. In many areas, Blacks were not allowed to register to vote or required to pay a poll tax or take an absurd test—such as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. While many Blacks fled the south to the north for better opportunities, still discrimination waited for them in the north.

King’s nonviolent protests and the civil rights movement moved the nation as Blacks were seen on TV being beat by police as they led peaceful protests for the rights to be treated equally as whites and to e able to vote. Congressman John Lewis (D. GA) was one of those who almost lost his life in the fight for voting rights.

By 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged lawmakers to pass the Civil Rights Act. It was signed into law on July 2, 1964 and outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. It prohibited unequal application of voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations.. The following year, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act which was designed to protect and enforce the voting rights of Blacks as afforded in the Constitution. A core provision of the act required under Section 5 a preclearance requirement, which prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. to show that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities. Unfortunately, in 2013 Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions.

By 1968 at the time of King’s death, he was advocating for a living wage for workers. He was assassinated in Memphis, while he was there to protest with sanitation workers on adequate wages. Before his death, he had sharply criticized the Vietnam War.

When I hear folks say that not much had change since King’s fight for civil rights, I must differ. While many things are still present in the U.S. due to racism, such as a resurgence of the KKK and white supremacy, there is a difference. King came into prominence in the 90 years post slavery. In those 90 years, over 4000 Blacks were lynched. Many Blacks were systemically lynched on the court house lawns as a means of perceived white justice. Other Blacks were lynched or killed at the hands of prominent members of white society for perceived indiscretions against whites. Emmitt Till’s violent death in 1955 was the wake up call for the beginning civil rights movement. The death of Emmitt Till had a profound effect on King and moved him to action to start the Montgomery bus boycotts.

Today King’s dream of full citizenship for African Americans is still being fought and waged on many fronts. From the disparate police shootings of unarmed African Americans, mass incarceration of Blacks, disenfranchisementof voting rights for convicted felons in states and restircive voter ID laws for others, the struggle continues. The Trump era’s attempts to set back gains accomplished by President Obama are battles waging daily.

Perhaps the greatest testament to King is his fight for the reality that voting and voting rights are paramount for African Americans. The ability of African Americans to be able to vote, albeit with restrictive voter ID laws aimed to deter voting, enabled the election of Barack Obama. And the same ability of many Blacks to remain home on election day in November, 2016 ushered in the Trump era.

King’s death did not end the dream. It moved the dream into a new era—that must be fought continuously by a new generation. We are not back at square one but we must continue the fight.

I appeared on BBC News to discuss the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.—50 years later.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172w71nbqg1f2r

Start @5:40- 13:53

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, speaker and former prosecutor.

Donald Trump’s Dog Days of Summer

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017
Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

 

The dog days of summer are usually referred to as the hottest days of the summer, particularly from mid- July to almost the end of August.  And Labor Day has come to mean the unofficial end of summer with vacations ending and students returning back to school.   The dog days of the Trump Administration have been particularly hot.  With summer closing to an end, I thought that now is a good time to evaluate the Trump Administration’s summer days.

 

Trump’s Administration has been hounded with its failure of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, the ever- ongoing Trump-Russia investigation by Special Prosecutor Mueller, Trump’s comments on the Charlottesville Nazi/white supremacist rally, the Twitter roll out of elimination of transgenders in the military, pardon of Sheriff Arpaio and now the expected ending of “DACA”, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

 

For the past 8 years of the Obama Administration, the Republican Party vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and leave millions without health insurance.  Trump declared the repeal and replacement of Obamacare would be the very first thing that he intended to accomplish.  With a Republican controlled House and Senate, it seemed very likely that the Affordable Care Act was on its death bed.  A vote in favor of repeal and replace would have likely left more than 16 million people uninsured by 2026.  And yet in the summer of 2017, the Republicans and the Trump administration failed to accomplish their signature promise. On July 28, 2017, during the wee morning hours, the repeal and replace voted failed with deciding votes by Senators John McCain (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) joining the Democrats.

 

The ongoing Russia- Trump investigation has continued to heat up and dog Mr. Trump.  It shows no signs of going away. With leaks abundant, it appears that each summer day brought a new revelation.  There were times that White House reality show was turning faster than any televised soap opera.  With a search warrant of Trump’s former campaign manager and chief campaign strategist Paul Manafort’s house on July 26, 2017 to revelations about previously undisclosed June 9, 2016 meetings with Don Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, Manafort and a Russian lawyer evolving around possible collusion, there was no letting up.

 

Beginning in mid-June, the Mueller focus began centering on targeting Trump for obstruction of justice and Kushner’s finances and business dealings. And even Vice President Pence lawyered up in mid-June with hiring of outside counsel. Despite all, Trump tweeted claiming victory against the investigation on June 16, 2017.

 

Unfortunately for Trump, Mueller did not wave a white flag and give up on the Trump-Russia investigation. Instead the efforts intensified. And Trump had to add lawyers to his legal team along with Kushner and Don, Jr adding additional counsel in the form of criminal defense attorneys.

 

In mid-June, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) director testified that Russian hacking occurred in at least 21 states.   In July, Trump refused to blame Russia for meddling in our election. Instead of relying on information from DHS, he relied on the word and denials of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit—as if Putin was going to admit anything.

Towards the end of July, it was leaked that Special Prosecutor Mueller was allegedly investigating Trump’s business deals, had his tax returns, the same ones Trump failed to disclose. A special prosecutor has the power to subpoena documents during its investigation.

Now CNN and MSNBC are reporting that Mueller has brought on top IRS Department of Justice prosecutors.  The heat is really on.  A case on the Russia collusion may take months if not years to complete an investigation.  Whenever prosecutors follow the money trail, it is a much easier case to prove matters such as tax evasion.  While they are not as salacious as the Russia-Trump collusion, tax matters are less reliant on fact witnesses.  Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion instead of the alleged violent acts he committed. In cases involving mob members, it was often tax evasion that brought them to justice and jail—instead of the crimes of murder and obstruction of justice.

And on August 3, news outlets reported Mueller impaneled a Washington grand jury to investigate the Trump-Russia thing. As a former prosecutor, the grand jury means the Trump-Russia investigation is not going away any time soon. Politico reported on August 29, that special counsel Mueller and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has teamed together on the investigations.

 

The most egregious and morally repulsive aspect of Trump’s summer were his comments surrounding the Charlottesville Neo-Nazi/KKK/white supremacist rally in August. Counter protester Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist whose car attacked protesters.  Instead of denouncing the hatred, bigotry and violent actions of Nazis and white supremacists, Trump defended it. He stated publicly that there was blame on “many sides”—meaning Nazis and the counter protesters against bigotry and hatred were both to blame.  As an African American, I know which side the President stands on in with respect to blacks and Jews versus white supremacists. Throughout history, White supremacists openly lynched, burned and terrorized blacks in many parts of the country. And now a U.S. president openly condones their racist and bigoted conduct.

With fall approaching and the dog days of summer leaving us, things will not cool down for Trump.  And it will only get hotter for the Trump Administration. Unfortunately, things are heating up for everyone else as long as he remains in office.

 

Blacks Go to Jail for Killing Dogs; Whites Stay Out of Jail for Killing Blacks

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

Black-Lives

I was on Twitter last night when I found out that Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby had been acquitted for killing Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man.  There have been so many police killings of unarmed Blacks with so few charges brought or guilty verdicts that I have become numb.  But yesterday’s verdict of Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby struck a raw nerve.  As a former prosecutor, I respect law abiding police; I detest those officers who lack the temperament, skills and self-control to wear a police uniform.

 

Terence Crutcher is just the latest unarmed Black victim in a decades long string of Black victims killed at the hands of police without justice.  On September 16, 2016, Betty Shelby stated she fired her gun killing Terence Crutcher out of fear.  That is the standard response by police officers used in these cases.  It’s as if it’s in their police training manual of what to say when you shoot and kill a Black person.  Nine white jurors and three Blacks evidently believed her version.  Crutcher had his hands up when he was shot by Shelby, as evidenced on two videos.

 

After the trial of former police officer Michael Slager, I have come to believe that most police officers can get away with murder of blacks with impunity.  With a video and a bystander filming and watching on, a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict in Slager’s trial.  Slager was caught on tape shooting Walter Scott in the back as Scott ran away. Slager gave the same verbatim response as Shelby that he feared for his life.  How one fears for his or her own life as the perceived threat is fleeing –defies logic.  A jury trial ended in a mistrial.  Slager later plead guilty to federal civil rights charges, thereby avoiding a re- trial and a state trial. He will be sentenced later this year.

 

And then there’s the other side of the coin.  Blacks receive jail sentences for killing dogs or stupidly and accidently shooting themselves. NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison for harming and killing dogs.  And former NFL player Plaxico Burress received a two year sentence for accidently shooting himself while at a night club.  Due to New York’s stringent gun laws, Burress likely pled guilty.  With both being black, Vick and Burress also likely pled guilty due to the likelihood of a guilty verdict against a Black man, if tried.  A jury will more likely render a guilty verdict against a Black man for killing a dog or almost killing himself that against a white police officer for killing an unarmed Black.

 

While I am not a Black man, I fear for all Blacks who encounter a police officer under circumstances that a white police officer can assert his fear.  That’s just about any circumstance imaginable.  Racial disparities exist in the killings of unarmed blacks versus whites.  According to statistics, African Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed than whites.  In 2015, 40% of all unarmed persons shot and killed by police were Black men. Yet, Black men make up only 6% of the U.S. population.

 

I would like to end on a positive note. But I am outraged at the constant loss of unarmed Black lives by police officers who cower under the guise of  their own innate racism.

 

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Remembering Barack Obama’s First Inauguration

Saturday, January 21st, 2017

ObamaElectionOn this Inauguration day, I choose to reflect on President Obama’s first inauguration on January 20, 2009 and what it meant to me. It was a blistering cold day with temperature in the 20’s.  I attended with a college friend and sorority sister. We were so excited that we could hardly sleep the night before. My friend wanted to get there very early to make sure we had a good spot. We were not fortunate to have tickets with seats.  We settled on arriving at 7:25 am.—a little later than the original 5:00 am time my friend suggested.  The actual swearing in was not until 12 noon.

 

The time passed by effortlessly. We talked to those in the crowd as though they were old friends. As I looked around the crowd, I saw faces of all races, ethnicities and ages. I recall an older black woman who came from Florida. Her son brought her a ticket and paid for hotel room in November.  When she had to have back surgery, her son assumed she would not be able to attend. She was determined to make it—-walker and all.  She knew it was likely a once in a lifetime experience.

I will never forget Aretha Franklin singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee while clad in her green church going hat.   Her rendition was part gospel, part jazzy and all soul.  It made the words of the song ring clear to me for the first time.

“My country ‘tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty—of thee I sang. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

 

It was the first time I saw my country with new eyes. And as President Obama took the oath of office, tears swelled in my eyes—as they did in those around me. All my emotions of that day and my life as a Black woman in America were wrapped up in that moment. I felt like I was a part of America for the first time.

 

At the end of the swearing in ceremony, flags were given out. People were hoarding flags—taking two, three and four flags as souvenirs.  Unfortunately, I did not get one.  I asked every Black person I saw if could have one of their extra flags. No one wanted to give up one flag.  One small white boy gave me one of his extra flags. I still have that small flag today.  That flag is a reminder to me of what I felt like as a proud Black woman in America on January 20, 2009.  That was a long time  ago from where I stand today.

 

Today I feel sadness for my country.  And I mourn the fact that President Obama’s term is finished.  That frigid cold day on January 20, 2009 gave me the spirit to fight for what I want this country to become.  This is my country –and I will fight  to feel what I felt on January 20, 2009 once again.  And just like the words to the gospel song—“ I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal  and political analyst and former prosecutor.  She frequently appears on MSNBC, PBS, CBS, Al Jazeera, Fox 5 DC, among others.