Thursday, July 21, 2016

THESE ARE TRYING TIMES IN BATON ROUGE!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

THESE ARE TRYING TIMES IN BATON ROUGE!

Early Sunday mornings are a quiet time for me.  I’m generally at a local coffee house in Baton Rouge looking over the morning papers for ideas to discuss on my mid-morning syndicated radio program.  Several police officers dropped in for a coffee break, and we visited about the aftermath of the recent Alton Sterling shooting. We wished each other a quiet and pleasant Sunday and went our separate ways.

My broadcast began at 9:00 am with my usual greetings and the welcoming of several new stations to my “Common Sense” radio network.  A few minutes later, the first of many urgent texts came in from my wife.  Shootings and police officers down just blocks away from where I was broadcasting.  With only scattered information available, I was probably the first national program to tell of the carnage and open warfare in the streets of Baton Rouge.

When the bloodbath subsided, three police officers were dead and three more wounded by an African American vigilante from Kansas City. The shooter, one Gavin E. Long, had become obsessed with white cops firing at a black man because, as the narrative goes, police are racists. 

Baton Rouge has quickly become a national symbol of disruption creating open wounds that will be difficult to heal. As The New Yorker wrote this week, “The virtual blur of gunfire, death, protest, sorrow, recrimination, anger, remembrance, and shock that has defined this period has made it possible to lose count of the totals. We know, or at least ought to know by now, that harm inflicted upon innocents as retribution for other harmed innocents is bad mathematics. The grief isn’t dimmed; it’s compounded like interest.”

In Baton Rouge and Dallas alone, eighteen police officers have been shot.  Eight are dead.  So a legitimate question to be asked:  Do blue lives matter?

One of the dead Baton Rouge police officers was Corporal Montrell Jackson.  Just days before his death, he anguished in a Facebook post: “ I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city loves me,” he wrote. “In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. Please don’t let hate infect your heart. The city MUST and WILL get better.” A few days later, he was shot dead.  He will never see his four-month-old little boy again.

Corporal Jackson and the other two police officers who were killed accepted the dangers of their jobs and knew exactly what they were expected to do.  “They ran to the threat,” Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said at a news conference, “not from the threat.”

Several thoughts can be taken from this Baton Rouge catastrophe.  So much for the good-guy-with-a-gun theory. There were 12 well-trained and armed Dallas police officers that were gunned down, and they had to send in a robot-delivered bomb to kill the assassin.  Alton Sterling, killed in a confrontation with Baton Rouge police officers, was illegally carrying a gun.  Guns are everywhere and readily available, legally and illegally.  And that’s part of the mindset of a police officer who begins and ends his or her shift knowing that, even in a routine traffic stop, guns can and often will be in play.

What was in the minds of the deranged killers who assassinated police officers in recent weeks?  Was it an effort to somehow “get even”? Was it payback time as a response to police shootings of civilians?  There is some solace in that the shooter was not a local, but an interloper who came to Baton Rouge from the Midwest to settle his own warped personal score.

Every year in my hometown, police officers confront hundreds of armed felons without the necessity of using lethal force. We send police officers into dangerous situations every day, then second-guess decisions that are often made in seconds. One confrontation that leads to a death can undermine even the best efforts of those in charge of keeping the peace.

Dialogues are beginning by community leaders and elected officials around Louisiana.  There are legitimate complaints by African Americans about being profiled, and those concerns should be addressed.  But the dialogue is not a one-way street. Officers who serve and protect have apprehensions as well.  As Corporal Jackson wrote in his final Facebook post: “These are trying times.  Please don’t let hate infect your heart.”

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.













Thursday, July 14, 2016

FORTY-EIGHT YEARS OF POLITICAL CONVENTIONS!


Thursday, July 14th, 2016
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

FORTY-EIGHT YEARS OF POLITICAL CONVENTIONS!

 Some 4000 Republican delegates and party officials are converging in Cleveland this week, with Democrats heading for Philadelphia the following week. The old process of picking national candidates in the proverbial smoke filled room has gone by the wayside in favor of party primaries. In the old days, candidates would spend years wooing state party leaders, who would then select delegates and tell them whom to support.

The timeworn system produced Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. The current process gave us George Bush and Barack Obama along with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton this year. You be the judge as to which process has worked out better for the country.

My first Democratic convention was in Atlantic City back in 1964. On a summer break from Tulane Law School, I was driving my fifteen-year-old Volkswagen convertible up to New York for a summer job, and I stopped in Atlantic City on the way. The Democrats were gathering in the old civic auditorium on the boardwalk, which for many years was the site of the Miss America pageant.

I was able to park my car about half a block from the auditorium and walk right up to the front door. A guard asked me where I was going, and I said I wanted to join the Louisiana delegation.

“Are you supposed to be with them?” he asked.

“I sure am,” I said. I might have exaggerated a bit, but I really wanted to get in the door.

“Well, then, welcome to Atlantic City, go right in.”

I stood about fifty feet away from the stage where President Lyndon Johnson kept the crowd in suspense until he announced that Senator Hubert Humphrey would be his running mate. Johnson was a cinch to be re-elected, and the Democrats pulled together as one big happy family. What a contrast to what happened four years later.

The next Democratic convention was held in Chicago. I was living in Ferriday, Louisiana at the time with my wife and our two-month-old daughter, Campbell. On the spur of the moment, we decided to travel to Chicago and visit old friends, so we packed up the car and headed north.

The main party headquarters was at the Sheraton Hotel, which faces Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago. Major opposition to the Vietnam War was building, and a large number of protesters had gathered in Grant Park across from the Sheraton. Confrontations were breaking out between protesters and police officers all around the hotel.

I ran into an old friend from Tulane who was working for Congressman Hale Boggs, a New Orleanian who was the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives in Washington. Off we went to the Blackstone Hotel for dinner, where the restaurant was in the basement. Just as we began our meal, I looked up to see white smoke seeping down the stairs into the dining room. My experience in the military told me immediately that it was tear gas, and I knew we had to get out quickly. The waiter had just put down my filet mignon. I grabbed the steak off the plate, slapped it over my nose and mouth, and dashed up the stairs through the tear gas, losing my friend in the confusion.

By the time I reached the street, riots were breaking out up and down Michigan Avenue and all over Grant Park. I knew I could get a better view from the top of the Sheraton, so I headed for the elevator in the lobby. When the doors opened, there were two people inside: Senator Russell Long, and Louisiana Governor John McKeithen.

Sticking my hand out, I introduced myself. “Governor, I’m Jim Brown from Ferriday.” McKeithen smiled. He was visibly surprised.

“Why Jim, what are you doing up here?” he asked.

“Governor,” I said, “I came all the way up here to support you for vice-president.”

McKeithen laughed, slapped me on the back, and told me he could not be more pleased.

I later learned that the Senator and the Governor had been on their way up to Vice President Humphrey’s suite to urge him to put McKeithen on the ticket. When he was not tapped for the job, the Governor left in a huff and headed back to Louisiana.

In 1988, the GOP gathered in New Orleans at the Superdome to pick their nominee. An old friend had a box suite and invited me to join him there to watch the festivities. The President to be, George H.W. Bush, had just completed his acceptance speech and the suite emptied out. I lingered to watch all the celebrating, when the door opened and Senator Bob Dole walked in.

Dole had lost the nomination to Bush in a heated battle marked by some sharp exchanges. The Kansas Senator had won the first battle in the Iowa Caucuses, with Bush finishing third. But Bush recovered and was unopposed for the nomination at the convention.
“Sorry, I must be lost,” he said. “There’s supposed to be a suite where I can sit a bit, but I’ve forgotten the number.”

“Senator, you’re welcome to relax here.” I offered him a drink and we sat and watched the jubilation and TV commentary. You could tell he was wishing he could have been the nominee taking on Governor Dukakis in the coming fall election.

“Dukakis is leading in the polls now.” I asked, “Can Bush win?”
Dole paused for a moment, and said: “Yes, I believe he will. But that promise about ‘read my lips — no new taxes.’ That may come back to haunt him in the future if he is elected.”

The Senator was right on the mark. That promise was a big factor in Bill Clinton’s victory over the incumbent President four years later.

As for me, 10 different political conventions are enough. I’ll join millions of Americans at home watching the TV circus, and anticipating a knock down drag out campaign in the weeks to come. 

*******
“A political convention is not a place where you can come away with any trace of faith in human nature.”
Murray Kempton

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.





Friday, July 08, 2016

A KILLING IN BATON ROUGE!



July 8th, 2016
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

A KILLING IN BATON ROUGE!

There is a perception around the country that high profile shootings are considered the norm in Louisiana. Nine police officers were killed in the line of duty last year, more than in any other state in the nation. New Orleans regularly heads the list of the highest murder rate in the country.  Now, my hometown of Baton Rouge is headlined in news coverage across the world as two white local police officers were involved in the shooting of an African-American man selling CDs outside a convenience store.

There were numerous witnesses and several videos that are all over the Internet.  The videos show a struggle, a police officer hollering “He’s got a gun,” and then multiple shots being fired.  The 37-year-old male named Alton Sterling was dead at the scene.

Sterling was no role model in the community.  As the Baton Rouge Advocate reported,
“Sterling’s life was punctuated by a rash of jail terms stretching back to 1996, including an encounter with police similar to the one that ended in his death.”  He was a registered sex offender and had served jail time for possession and distribution of drugs and illegally possessing a gun.  He had lots of problems.

But should he have been killed while resisting arrest?  The FBI is now involved and all this is to be sorted out in the weeks to come.  The city is on edge and the Governor, the Mayor and a host of city and community leaders are calling for calm in the wake of the rioting that took place in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore.

I was a guest on a statewide radio program this week and a caller asked what she should tell her kids if they are confronted by a police officer. I answered that I have counseled my family members to do everything possible to defuse the situation.  If you or your child is unjustly accused or mishandled, there will be a later time to air one’s grievances.  But not in the heat of a confrontation.

A local African-American state representative strongly disagreed with me, saying that black citizens have been told for years to just go long, patronize police officers, and don’t rock the boat. His exact words were: ‘It’s always on the victim, the victim should have done this, the victim should have done that.  We always make the victim the perpetrator, and we’re not going to stand for it this time.”

Maybe the victim is not the perpetrator and perhaps the police are being overbearing and too demanding. So you have to make a choice. Confront, argue and oppose the orders of the police, or try to calmly defuse the situation even if you feel you are in the right.  Alton Sterling chose confrontation, and now he is dead.

When I was serving as Secretary of State back in the 1980s, I was driving home late one night through St. Landry Parish, when a local police officer pulled me over for speeding.  He ordered me out of the car, and to get down on my knees with my hands in front of me.  He proceeded to search my state car without any justification while I lay prone on the gravel for some 10 minutes.  I was livid, and was on the verge of telling him off.  But a cooler view prevailed and I just kept quiet.  When he finished his search, he began to realize his overreaction and apologized.  His boss called the next day to express his regret and assure me that his officers needed more common sense response training.

I’m not suggesting that a citizen who feels aggrieved should not protest what they feel is abuse and overreaction by police officers.  I certainly would.  File a complaint, get a lawyer, start a petition, organize a protest, call on the ACLU, call the mayor and the chief of police.

But in the heat of a confrontation, especially at night, use some common sense and consider the consequences.  You can raise a ruckus by clashing with the police.  Or you can live to fight for your rights on another day.  Even if Alton Sterling was in the right, he won’t be around for another day.

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.







Wednesday, June 29, 2016

EDUCATIONAL REFORM OFTEN IGNORED!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

EDUCATIONAL REFORM OFTEN IGNORED!

With a major national election just a month away, the stakes continue to get higher.  A well-educated workforce is the key to pulling the country out of the present economic doldrums.  But in election contests nationwide, and particularly in my home state of Louisiana, improving public education is rarely if ever mentioned as a campaign issue.

Congress eagerly jumped into the economic fray and fixed the banks and Wall Street, but left creative ideas to upgrade public education on the sidelines.  As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently, “We need to understand that it is not only our financial system that needs a reboot and an upgrade, but also our public school system.  Our educational failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness.”

In every study conducted that reviews how to make the country more productive and competitive, emphasis on math and science tops the list.  In national surveys, Louisiana math and science scores rank at the bottom.  The state has lost a number of startup companies to other cities like Dallas and Atlanta because of the lack of potential employees with math and science skills.

Yet, math and science achievements are far from being buzzwords of the state’s educational and political leaders.  Recent state economic grants of several hundred million dollars went to a sweet potato processing plant and a poultry plant that hires chicken pluckers. Now if we could just give state economic incentives for Louisiana farmers to grow “poke salad,” a traveler could buy a complete meal at a stand on the side of the road. 

A bright spot of logic in Louisiana comes from Shreveport cardiologist, Dr. Philip Rozeman.  He has been a guest on my radio show, and he thinks, with good reason, that educators and politicians spend far too much time on adult issues, like who runs the school boards, teachers unions, and how charters schools are licensed.  “Often, adult issues dominate the debate and children’s issues are pushed to the side.”

Our family spends part of the summer in rural Western North Carolina where certain schools have pushed “children’s issues” to the front burner.  Shanequa High School is located in in Gaston, N.C. where most of the students are black and many are from low-income families.  The school hours go from 7:30 am until 5:00 pm, with two hours of mandatory homework, along with Saturday morning classes every other Saturday, and three weeks of summer school.   There are no teachers unions here and teachers are attracted with high pay, and the freedom to be creative in raising the level of student interest.  The results?  All 48 graduating seniors were accepted to at least two colleges and all will be attending one next year.

In my home state of Louisiana, far from expanding the school day, some districts have gone to a four-day school week.  When the New Orleans Saints opened their season on a Thursday night a few years ago, schools in the New Orleans area shut down at noon.  Got to get ready for the game, right?

Our family adopted several local children’s homes here in the Baton Rouge. In talking to the kids, they expressed their frustration that when they left school and came back to the group home, no computers were not available. One thirteen year old told me:  “We can’t get help for our homework and projects over the Internet like the rest of the kids have at their home.”  We supplied six computers along with Wi Fi accessibility. 
Immediately, the student interest in studying improved and grades went up.

In a state like Louisiana, where abundant natural resources have been a disincentive to finding a good paying job, the basic qualifying education rate has been dismal for years.  But with mineral production slowing down, this should be a wakeup call. A well-educated work force will attract more advanced industries with high tech designs.  The path to a future of prosperity in all states, but particularly in Louisiana, is knowledge.  Someone needs to ring that bell.

*****

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.” 
    Lee Iacocca

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown



Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.