Recent Exonerated Sentences Show Danger Of Death Penalty To Black Citizens

Even though Kevin Strickland was sentenced in Missouri to a life sentence for the murders of three people, had he resided in some other states he very well could have been sentenced to death. The 62-year-old Black man was convicted by an all-white jury in 1979.  Had he been sentenced in Texas, as an example, he might already have been put to death.

Now think about this.

This week a judge exonerated Strickland after more than 43 years in prison, marking the longest confirmed wrongful conviction case in Missouri’s history, and also one of the longest in the nation. The case against him was built on the testimony of Cynthia Douglas, the sole survivor and eyewitness, who later attempted multiple times to recant her testimony because she said she was pressured by police.

This summer Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued rare posthumous pardons to a group of Black men known as the Martinsville Seven, who were executed in 1951 after being convicted by all-white juries of raping a white woman. He issued what were termed “simple pardons,” which do not deal with the issue of guilt or innocence but recognize that the cases involved racial inequity and a lack of due process. The fact they never had their fair crack at the judicial process means their executions are viewed as appalling.

Just days ago four men known as the Groveland Four were exonerated of the false charges that they raped a white woman in 1949.  Florida State Attorney Bill Gladson stated the matter those many decades ago was “a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”

Last week in Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt called off the execution of Julius Jones, a Black man on death row. This case had taken on national interest due to the police investigation that was understood to be biased, and a defense lawyer who was more fitted to sweep the courthouse than sit before a judge in a trial. Then there is Oklahoma itself, with a justice system that has been correctly lambasted many times over the decades for racism in their death penalty cases.

The state has the highest Black incarceration rate in the U.S.: Black people are imprisoned at 4.5 times the rate of white people. Racial disparities have been shown at every level of the justice system—from arrest to conviction and ultimately sentencing. The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission found that the state is 3.2 times more likely to ask for the death penalty if the victim is white. 

We all can see the dangers within the judicial process with the death penalty, as there is then no room for actual justice to be rendered for those who have been falsely accused.

I just can not find a moral reasoning to ever allow the death penalty to be used as a means of conveying society’s revulsion to a criminal for an act that has been committed.  I do not feel that the government has the right to commit someone to death.   I have felt this way for all of my life. 

The fact we find some criminal acts to be so barbaric that some wish to turn to death as a way to make a statement about how society feels is a natural one.  I can understand how upset people can be over a murder. But what I can not understand are those who wish to translate those feelings of anger to an actual execution. 

Too often the evidence against Black men who are charged with serious crimes, in certain states with racial animus ingrained in their police departments and judicial processes, falls apart when the full light of sunshine is allowed entrance. The cases above–all within a small time frame from this year– prove the point of how prevalent racism is in police procedures and sentencing.

As a nation, we must not allow ourselves to be taken over by the desire for the ultimate revenge. When we sharply veer into that direction we are absolutely going to make horrific mistakes. With the death penalty, there is no way to ever correct that colossal and wrong decision.

And so it goes.

Republicans Now See Porn In School Books, Too Much Concern About Racism

I will be the first to readily admit a lack of awareness when it comes to abstract art. I may like the colors used or the flow of the brush or the way drops of paint are splattered on a canvas. But when asked about what I ‘see’ my answer would have to be more about the wall it is hanging on than the work itself.

‘Some things are not visual. They only exist when the mind wishes to see them.

This brings me to Texas State Representative Matt Krause, a conservative Republican who is openly waging war on books. He ‘sees’ all sorts of ‘troubling things’ within their pages.

His list of offensive books (for now) only numbers 850. He insists that state schools should go through their stacks and determine if any on his list are found. The reason for such a book-hunting is obvious he claims as the books “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.”

As I scanned his list for censorship I found the masterful read, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules. I can not fathom why that piece of literature should not be used to teach good writing to larger examinations of social issues. Students today are not coming in off the prairie. Rather they are tuned into social media and more aware than adults about an array of topics needing a discussion. Using the classroom to take what they know and then put it into differing perspectives is a most useful educational tool.

Books are an essential means to accomplish that task.

Matt Krause

Krause’s absurdity is but one of the latest and truly reprehensible actions taken as conservative Republicans marshal their forces to create a false narrative about schoolbooks and classroom texts. When a political party can not win on the actual issues, or create policy ideas that mesh with what is actually occurring in the nation then a fabricated and misleading concoction needs to be fomented.

When it comes to Krause and this specific action it becomes even more cynical. He will be in a primary fight to become the next Attorney General. What better way to play to the Trump base, who never saw a book worth reading, and at the same time make some headlines and cash in for a higher name ID in the state? After all, censorship and other illiberal actions are not outside the bounds of the conservative base.

The larger battle underway in the nation is for the midterm elections and the race for the White House in 2024. The culture war started this time from the books and educational material used, or purported to be used, to educate students about America’s history of institutional racism. Now they have swung into books by people of color and others who are gay or transgender.

The teaching of such material, if you listen to the far-right will make Little Johnny and Sally feel uncomfortable about being white children. They might have a fuller appreciation for the totality of the American experience, and that will not play well in rural America.

The students might view personal diversity as a positive aspect of our culture, and better understand the larger idea of America as a “melting pot”. (‘We must not have that in Texas or anywhere!’)

Lord!

Banish the thought that education is designed to open new horizons, ways of thinking, and yes, at times, make for personal discomfort. All that is called part of the educational process.

This fall we were treated to this narrative as it played out in the Virginia governor’s race. Fairfax County resident Laura Murphy took off after Toni Morrison’s treasure of a read Beloved saying that, in part, graphic depictions of sex in the book caused her son–then a senior in high school—troubling dreams.

Say it is not so! A teenager having sex dreams.

For the sake of the conservative base, I trust the dreams were not biracial.

Meanwhile, one does have to wonder what Matt Krause might see in abstract works of art.

And so it goes.

Conservatives Wish To Politicize Mequon-Thiensville School District With Needless School Board Recall

If you have not been following the news from the Mequon-Thiensville School District you have missed one of the more troubling events facing those who are elected to serve on a school board. Four members of the board are facing recall elections in November. 

And all the for sake of undermining faith in our local institutions.

Wendy Francour, Erik Hollander, Akram Khan, and Chris Schultz are now facing an attempt to hijack a local school board by a group of people in the community who are just as willing to spread misinformation as they would cheese on a pizza. What has occurred over the recent weeks with this recall is another example of the lowest common denominator seeking to undermine facts and logic.

Why this matter finds concern on this Madison blog is that this recall effort epitomizes the larger threat to our democracy that has played out around the nation. Not only does the usual quackery emerge about mask mandates, vaccine shots, and a disdain for dealing with racism through the curriculum but more importantly the willful sowing of seeds to undermine our institutions. In this case, a duly elected school board is falsely branded, and the skills of the board members derided, so the faith in the electorate is undermined.

The post here is about the Mequon-Thiensville School District but the fact is this modus operandi is taking place around the nation. Hence, the larger threat to democracy.

Without actual problems so to reasonably force a recall the angry ones have stirred the larger community into believing that something untoward and outlandish has taken place by the board. It has not, of course.

But if enough false charges can be lodged from the continually resentment-filled (echoes of 2016 presidential election) then chaos can ensure, a recall can emerge, and who knows that can happen! That is the game plan of these conservatives.

So from that perspective, this recall is one that has eyes on it from all over. After all, a partisan-inspired hijacking of this type should never be allowed.

The attempt by those to take over the board by the use of politically based rhetoric runs counter to the data-driven requirements that board members need to operate under so to make sure a school is as effective in education as possible.

It should be noted that the Mequon-Thiensville School District now scores an 89.5% out of 100% rating. That is not some ranking that the board created for its own purposes, but rather the result of data collected and analyzed from the Wisconsin Department of Education.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District Significantly Exceeds Expectations on the 2018-19 School Report Cards issued in November 2019 by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

It might seem easy to think this school board matter is happening ‘over there’ and does not need to register across the state. But the fact is this tactic used by those who harbor resentments against different aspects of our larger pluralistic society are using every means they can to upend our working institutions.

All eyes need to be on this recall effort, and work to see that it fails.

And so it goes.

Madison’s WMTV Responds To Racist Chief Wahoo Mascot Airing Twice On Sports Report

Over the past week, I have posted twice about Madison’s WMTV sports report where an anchor was standing in front of a screen with the Brewers spelled out but with the racist Chief Wahoo mascot used to represent the Cleveland Indians. The team itself retired this graphic years ago because of its stereotypical and minstrel show-like features.

A reader had complained to the station, did not get a reply, and then contacted the FCC. Throughout the process, he contacted me and hoped this little place on the internet might highlight the issue. Having my mom’s family tree extending back to Cherokee Chief John Ross and the Trail of Tears meant the request was met with absolute acceptance.

This week WMTV did respond to the Madison viewer.

Good evening, Rick. I apologize that we did not acknowledge that you reached out to us earlier this month. I should’ve done so as the newsroom manager.

Our weekend on-call news manager for Sept. 11-12th alerted the newsroom (and sports team) to the error; and I followed up with our team when I was back in the office that Monday (I had been traveling over the weekend). In my follow-up, I learned this error of showing the old logo was isolated to the 9 and 10 p.m. sportscasts on the 11th. During that series of play between the two teams, the correct logo aired on Friday and also Sunday.

The person who made the mistake regrets doing so and understands the impact. So do I. I expect better. We understand that the images we use are as meaningful and important as the words we choose in our storytelling. We want to get it right and strive to do so.

We’ve taken steps to purge this particular graphic from our system, so it isn’t used again. We’ve also used this time to double check other team logos—and I can confirm we did not have the old Braves, Redskins or Illini logos in our system.

I appreciate your viewership and that you took the time to write us. I apologize again for not getting back to you… and I apologize also that the old logo was used.

Jessica Laszewski

News Director

NBC15 WMTV

FCC Contacted For Native American Racism On Madison’s WMTV

A complaint to a local television station has escalated into contact with the FCC concerning the airing of the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing a Cleveland baseball team.

Readers to this blog might recall that on August 12th I posted a comment about WMTV’s sports report where racist images were aired, twice in one day.

I am outraged!  I watched the CW news at 9 and couldn’t believe when the sports anchor reported the Brewers’ score and there was the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing Cleveland on the screen!  So I watched at 10 and the same damn thing!  The team retired this graphic as the racist, demeaning symbol it is years ago.  And yet WMTV uses it twice!  

Since the viewer did not receive the courtesy of a response from WMTV about what was aired the complaint was sent to Washington.

I was watching the 9 p.m. newscast on WMTV2. On the sports report, the anchor was standing in front of a screen with Brewers spelled out and the racist Chief Wahoo mascot to represent the Cleveland Indians. The team itself retired this graphic years ago because of it’s sterotypical and minstrel show like features. I thought, “this must be a mistake, or an inexperienced intern added the wrong graphic” But on the 10 p.m. newscast, the same thing. This racist graphic should have been retired from the graphics library long ago. I filled out their comment form, called the sports department and left a voicemail demanding an apology on their next evening’s newscast. I also emailed the news and programming departs. Never heard anything back. Apparently they think they can get away with using racist representations on the public airwaves and don’t have to answer the public.

From the perspective of this blogger’s desk, it would seem the most appropriate response should have been forthcoming from WMTV. It is troubling that no feedback was given to a legitimate concern about racism against Native Americans–coming from the most liberal city in the state. If we can not do what is right here what should be expected above Highway 29?

Having worked in radio, and often commenting on the use of the public airwaves on Caffeinated Politics, I firmly hold to the accountability that license holders have to the public with these types of issues. We know that mistakes happen on the air, but when they do it is essential that an honest statement be made, and an earnest effort made to not make them again.

Pretending that the images never aired, nor offering an apology is not in alignment with the higher standards that the public has every right to expect from one granted a television license.

And so it goes.

Madison TV Sports Report Receives Fair Criticism For Racial Symbol Used Twice

This blog often comments on the media, both to praise and also to offer words for needed improvements. It is that last point which a reader made an effort in conveying with the following comment sent to Madison’s Channel 15, WMTV. He also sent his concerns to me, knowing that it would register here.

I am outraged!  I watched the CW news at 9 and couldn’t believe when the sports anchor reported the Brewers’ score and there was the caricature of Chief Wahoo representing Cleveland on the screen!  So I watched at 10 and the same damn thing!  The team retired this graphic as the racist, demeaning symbol it is years ago.  And yet WMTV uses it twice!  

Welcome to 2021!  

WMTV should apologize on all of your broadcasts tomorrow.  That graphic should be retired from your library.  By the way, I’m not suggesting we erase Chief Wahoo from our history.  We need to learn how things, ignorantly can perpetuate stereotypes.  But you don’t put them on a damn newscast!

For whatever it is worth, WMTV has one of their top anchors, John Stofflet, in a promo closing his laptop, loosening his tie, and talking about how their news team only gives the facts, and not opinions. But after this troubling news from a viewer one has to ask if racist symbols, intentionally or by sloppiness, are to be condoned?

Critical Race Theory And Huck Finn

During the pandemic, I reread Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Some readers will ask why I start off a post about the latest culture war, created by conservative Republicans, with a classic piece of literature? I will get to the point shortly.

It would be almost impossible not to know that all across the nation Republican-led legislatures have either passed bills, or are entertaining the notion, to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions.  Not being able to refute the matter, elected Republicans have undertaken a vigilant proactive move to utterly dictate how historical racism in America is presented in our classrooms.

At the core of this issue is the degree to which critical race theory, which is an argument that first registered in colleges and university settings, now should be treated in our public schools. The question is if students should learn about historical patterns of racism that are molded and shaped into laws and our institutions? Then, should students be taught how the consequences of those actions are reflected in our modern times?

America’s original sin–the owning of other people as property–is not something that, because it happened in a by-gone era of our nation, it, therefore, can be papered over with a listing of all the ways we have strived to meet our ideals. That can no more be the end of the discussion than a mere short lesson about how Native Americans were removed from their lands, or the Chinese workers who toiled building railroads were horribly mistreated, or in the 1940s Japanese internment destroyed lives.

At some point, there must be a real reckoning with the past. The increased public awareness about things from housing segregation, red-lining, voter disenfranchisement, how criminal justice policy in the 1990s create unfair outcomes, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans all require honest discussions.

One way to achieve that is by tackling the fact that built into our society are layers of systemic racism. While it is very true that our nation has made tremendous strides for social justice it also needs stating that highlighting our misdeeds along the way, and the manner in which they still exist, is a path for national understanding and growth.

But with that attempt at understanding comes the awareness of being uncomfortable.  One of the reasons this issue has generated so much blowback is due to the degree to which it makes people grasp the larger delusions we collectively have as a nation about ‘how well off’ we are with race relations. 

This week in the Washington Post conservative nationally syndicated columnist Michael Gerson wrote that he now understands that systemic racism is real.

I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood of a middle-class suburb in a Midwestern city. I went to a middle-class high school, with middle-class friends, eating middle-class fried bologna sandwiches. And for most of my upbringing, this seemed not only normal but normative. I assumed this was a typical American childhood.

Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.

This is what I mean by systemic racism. If, on my 13th birthday, all the country’s laws had been suddenly, perfectly and equally enforced, my community would still have had a massive hangover of history. The structures and attitudes shaped during decades and centuries of oppression would still have existed. Legal equality in theory does not mean a society is justly constituted.

For me, part of being a conservative means taking history seriously. We do not, as Tom Paine foolishly claimed, “have it in our power to begin the world over again.” We live in an imperfect world we did not create and have duties that flow from our story.

There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.

Gerson’s seeking to understand the issue, along with his reaching out via his column is the type of dialogue our nation requires at this time.  Looking within as we also watch the nation around us can provide answers.

As it did for Huck Finn. 

The Mississippi River was a large adventure for Huck.  Travel by night, tie the raft up on shore during daylight.  The raft meant freedom, but as he traveled further South he took in what the river provided for sights.  He saw the small towns and the ills that confront those like his friend Jim, a slave who is recaptured.  He then needs to ponder his values and moral compass with the added experiences he gains.

So it is with all of us. 

As we listen, read, talk with others, and gain insight into the views of others who share information about systemic racism we too need to follow the footsteps akin to Huck.

Ponder our values and moral compass.

Diversity In Rural Wisconsin Should Be A Good Thing

I recall in many of my school years a fellow student named Adrian would often be in classes. His parents were migrant workers who traveled seasonally and worked when crops demanded their labor. As such he was in school for periods of time and then gone again.

The most poignant memory I have of him came after a series of taunts and ridicule from other students, language and insults they had no doubt heard in their homes, about the ‘big car’ his family owned.  I recall that in a flat conversational tone he simply said that the car was not only for travel but also “that is where we live when working.”

I will never forget that conversation and the weight it had, especially for me as the decades have rolled along.  Living in Waushara County meant that we often rubbed shoulders with Hispanics and as such, it would seem that more sensitivity to their lives might have resulted.  But it never developed in that county to the degree that humanity would hope.

We had a few children on our school bus route who lived in small cabin-like dwellings not so far from where I lived, that were used by migrant families. Some would snicker that a scent of their morning breakfast would trail along when the kids ran to their seats to sit down.  

One of those boys was always friendly and I once asked what breakfast was like in his home. He told me usually had fried bread on the stove with meat.  I recall being told his mom made it herself with flour and it rose overnight for the morning meal.  Decades later I was reminded of that bread when in Arizona a Native American vendor was making fresh flatbread on a low stone fireplace near a road.  It was greasy to the touch when eating, but powerfully good. I imagined that was perhaps akin to what that boy had for breakfast many years prior.

Getting to know people has always been something I have embraced.  Without really knowing it was happening or even why I am designed this way has allowed for good friendships to form, and a better sense of the world around me. 

We all have assumptions about people, be it why some spend their money on a larger car, or the scent that comes from the coat near to the kitchen table so to wear when the bus approaches.

I just know that Adrian felt apart and different and some of his classmates made that divide deeper and more troubling. His parents were hard-working and obviously determined to have their child in school.  So the snide remarks and bigotry from some of the homes that found their way to the school grounds was something no kid should have to encounter.

This is why I will always recall his flat and conversational tone about explaining his family car. No kid should need to confront such situations which resulted from bigotry, but that he handled it in such a calm manner is what strikes me these nearly 50 years later.

And so it goes.