Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Don’t Let Trump and Co. Distract From Black Lives Matter

Black lives should matter more than votes

Dear presidential candidates:

With the first anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown this weekend, America needs to know how the tumultuous events of the last year have affected your stance regarding the needs of the black community. In order for African Americans to determine this, please select one of the following that best defines your current philosophy: a) Black Lives Matter, b) Black Votes Matter, c) Black Entertainers and Athletes Matter, d) All of the Above, e) None of the Above.

If you chose anything other than “a,” you probably don’t deserve any votes—black, brown, or white. You might get votes by default of being less bad than the alternatives, but getting votes that way isn’t much of an endorsement of your leadership abilities. And making things better for African Americans in a substantial and meaningful way in this country is going to require an outstanding leader.

In ancient Greece, a touchstone was a dark stone, such as slate, used to determine the purity of gold ore. Today, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has become a political touchstone in determining the basic qualities of a leader: courage, vision, and intelligence.

Courage is required in order to speak out in support of “Black Lives Matter.” So many Americans misunderstand the meaning of the phrase that there’s an outraged backlash against it. The popular misinterpretation, encouraged by some politicians seems to be that by saying “Black Lives Matter,” African Americans are seeking special attention. In fact, it’s the opposite. They are seeking their fair share of opportunities without receiving the “special attention” of being profiled, arrested, imprisoned, or killed.

Many of you candidates—including the only black candidate, Ben Carson—have used the more mundane phrase, “All Lives Matters,” which appeases racism deniers. This is cowardly because it completely ignores the problem and panders to the least politically informed constituency. Americans are used to candidates competing to see who can best ingratiate themselves to the demands of reclusive billionaire backers and fringe groups, but this goes too far.

Most Americans are already in agreement that all life matters—it’s just that blacks want to make sure that they are included in that category of “all,” which so many studies prove is not the case. In the future, think of “Black Lives Matter” as a simplified version of “We Would Like to Create a Country in Which Black Lives Matter as Much as White Lives in Terms of Physical Safety, Education, Job Opportunities, Criminal Prosecution, and Political Power.”

Studies prove that the education system is biased in favor of white students: A 2014 U.S. Education Department survey concluded that students of color in public schools are punished more and receive less access to experienced teachers than white students. This leads to lower academic performance for minorities, putting them at greater risk of dropping out of school. Minorities are also on the short end of the job market: Unemployment among blacks is about double that among whites. One study found that job applicants with black-sounding names received 50% fewer callbacks than those with white-sounding names.

More important is the legitimate fear black people have for their lives. The killing of unarmed black men, women, and children at the hands of police this past year has been well documented in the press. We continue to see more names added to the list. A recently revealed video shows police shooting to death Jonathan Ferrell, who knocked at a nearby house for help after a car accident in 2013. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” isn’t just a metaphor; it’s a call for awareness of the literal danger to one’s physical body merely by being black in America. A danger that whites don’t share.

Presidential candidates must also have vision and intelligence. You have to envision an ideal America of equal opportunity and treatment for all and have an intelligent plan to actually move the country in that direction. Both qualities require an awareness of current political and social movements. Thousands recently attended a “Black Lives Matter” conference in Cleveland. A lot of the news coverage ignored the substance of the meeting, instead focusing on the more dramatic images of a transit cop pepper-spraying some people who protested the arrest of a 14-year-old black kid accused of being intoxicated. The following week, candidates including Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush spoke at the National Urban League’s conference, an African-American political activist group that is larger and older than the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Why were there no candidates at the “Black Lives Matter” conference?

Part of the reason is that the discussion of race in America as a major talking point for this election has been derailed by the funhouse candidacy of Donald Trump. His unexpected popularity has sent many of you candidates into hiding so as not to offend his conservative supporters. You tried denouncing his rude, inaccurate, and bullying comments, but that only seemed to increase Trump’s popularity. Trump is succeeding at taking the Grumpy Old Grandpa approach: complain without offering practical solutions. It’s likely that his supporters are mostly the disenfranchised older, white, middle-class conservatives who already feel marginalized and invisible. Like Howard Beale in Network, they’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore. They have this narrow window to be heard, and by supporting such an outrageously improbable candidate, their voices are coming through loud and clear.

What they fail to realize is that Trump’s outspoken opinions, which his followers consider refreshing, are mostly meaningless. As president he wouldn’t have the power to do much of what he claims he would do. That’s why he appeals to those who have little knowledge of how government actually works. Never mind that Trump’s statements reveal no specific policy or plan, or that he has no experience, and that his comments show him to be detached from the street-level problems of America. Or, most important, that the very people who support him will likely be the most hurt by his election. His popularity is similar to the Schwarzenegger Syndrome: Californians elected Arnold simply because he was refreshingly outspoken, despite the fact that he had no qualifications or job experience appropriate to running a state. In the end, despite Schwarzenegger’s bold talk and good intentions, some argue California was worse off when he left office. That is pretty much what we could expect under the Trumpinator.

With the nation focused on the Trump Distraction, the “Black Lives Matter” issue has been moved to the back of the bus. But don’t expect the issue to wait patiently for its turn in the spotlight. Take a look at this week’s Pew Research Center poll, which concludes that 58% of Hispanics and 73% of African Americans believe racism is a big problem. That’s two voting blocks. Perhaps even more relevant is that 44% of whites agree that it’s a significant problem, which is an increase of 17 points since 2010. Finally, the most important finding: 59% of all those polled agree that the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites.” That’s up from 46% about a year ago.

In his novel Animal Farm, George Orwell satirizes totalitarian governments that revise history by changing their original commandment: “All animals are equal” becomes “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” By ignoring the “Black Lives Matter” issue, you’re proclaiming your political position that, “All life matters, but some lives matter more than others.” Let’s see how that works out for you next November.

MONEY politics

Kasich Says Obamacare Empties Prisons—In a Good Way

The Ohio governor says the program, unpopular with Republicans, has reduced recidivism rates.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended his expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate.

The Medicaid expansion, unpopular among many of the Republican faithful, has benefited mentally ill prison inmates, said Kasich.

“I’d rather get them their medication so they could lead a decent life,” he said.

“Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have addictions or problems,” Kasich added. “We now treat them in the prisons, release them in the community and the recidivism rate is 10 percent….”

Participants in the debate, held in Cleveland and televised on Fox News, were Kasich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, real estate mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

MONEY politics

Huckabee and Carson Invoke Pimps and God in Fight Over Your Taxes

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee pitched his “fair tax” proposal at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate. Meanwhile, fellow candidate Dr. Ben Carson pushed for a 10% income tax.

Huckabee said the tax on consumption “is paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.”

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, favors a 10% income tax that would apply to income large or small. That system, he said, “is based on tithing, because I think God is a pretty fair guy.”

Participants in the debate, held in Cleveland and televised on Fox News, were Huckabee, Carson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, real estate mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

MONEY politics

Mike Huckabee Says Pimps and Prostitutes Can Help Save Social Security

The former Arkansas governor says his proposed "fair tax" will eliminate freeloading and fix entitlement programs.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, making a pitch for his “fair tax” proposal at Thursday night’s Republican presidential debate, said the tax on consumption would save Social Security and Medicare. On this point, he clashed with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said that the Social Security system was broken.

“The money paid in consumption is paid by everybody,” said Huckabee, “including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, all the people that are freeloading off the system now.”

Participants in the debate, held in Cleveland and televised on Fox News, were Huckabee, Christie, real estate mogul Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

MONEY politics

Four-Bankruptcy Donald Trump Says He’s the Guy to Straighten Out Nation’s Debt

The real estate mogul says he's well-qualified to clean up the nation's debt.

Donald Trump was unapologetic Thursday night about the four companies he’s been affiliated with that have filed for bankruptcy protection. In fact, he insisted that he was well qualified to handle the nation’s debt.

Trump’s comments came in response to questioning from Chris Wallace, moderator of a primetime debate, held in Cleveland and televised on Fox News, among 10 candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Participants in the debate were real estate mogul Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

TIME The Daily Show

‘Daily Show’ Set Is Going to the Newseum

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents Democalypse 2014: South By South Mess
Rick Kern—Getty Images for Comedy Central Daily Show Host Jon Stewart.

The popular satirical news show ends this week

With “The Daily Show” ending this week, the show’s set will be donated to the Newseum — a museum dedicated to journalism — in Washington, D.C.

“We are thrilled to accept the donation of these artifacts to the Newseum collection,” said Cathy Trost, who is the Newseum’s senior vice president of exhibits and programs, in a statement. “They are part of America’s cultural and media history, telling an important story about how political satire and news as humor made ‘The Daily Show’ a trusted news source for a generation.”

Stewart’s first episode of the show aired in 1999. In February, he announced he’d be retiring from the wildly popular satirical news show.

For more on the show, read Fortune’s look at some of the most memorable business moments.

TIME Civil Rights

The Voting Rights Act at 50: How the Law Came to Be

This landmark legislation was signed on Aug. 6, 1965. Here's how we got there

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, exactly 50 years ago on Thursday, he noted that the day was “a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield.”

On Aug. 6, 1965, Johnson closed one chapter of America’s history of denying black Americans the right to vote. For nearly a century, the words of the 15th Amendment, which guarantees the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous conditional of servitude” had been rendered useless by subversive tactics like secret ballots, poll taxes, literacy tests and other discriminatory practices that essentially made it impossible for most blacks to cast a ballot. “It was like a stirring march that was written but never played,” TIME wrote of the 15th Amendment in 1965. Between 1890 and 1908, seven southern states had constitutional amendments that established poll taxes and grandfather clauses—which gave leeway to poor whites looking to vote, as long as their ancestors had voted before 1867—and stripped African Americans of their voting rights.

In 2013, Slate published what appeared to be an original copy of the type of literacy test that was administered in Louisiana during the long period before the passage of the Voting Rights Act. The test featured confusing prompts like “draw a line around the number or letter of this sentence” and “draw a line around the shortest word in this line.” According to research by the National Park Service, in Mississippi literacy tests asked questions like “how many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

When these sneaky laws were in place, black voter registration and participation plummeted throughout the south. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, in Mississippi alone the percentage of black voting-age men who were registered to vote fell from 90% during the Reconstruction period after the 15th Amendment’s passage to about 6% in 1892. By 1940, only about 3% of eligible blacks in the south were registered to vote. And with the law on their side, segregationists in the South began to use more overt, and at times violent, tactics to keep blacks from voting.

Without the vote, African Americans had very little say in how their communities functioned. Their disenfranchisement sparked a movement across the country that demanded equal protection under the law and the right to vote. “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights,” Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said during a speech in 1957, in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1964, the Congress on Racial Equality and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee led volunteers across Mississippi to register blacks to vote, during what was known as the Freedom Summer. The deaths of three volunteers—two white and one black—pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The efforts in Alabama came to a head during the Selma marches in early 1965. Activists who had planned a march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama were met with Billy clubs and an angry mob led by state troopers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, which would later be known as “Bloody Sunday.

The startling image of the angry mob ravaging peaceful protesters reverberated across the nation, from the citizens who traveled to Alabama to stand in solidarity with protestors to President Johnson, who introduced the Voting Rights Act to Congress shortly after. “It is not just Negroes,” Johnson told Congress, “but it’s really all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.”

But, though Johnson’s actions may have seemed like a speedy turnaround after Selma, as TIME noted in 1965, the fight for the bill had been a long one already:

The voting rights bill did not spring entirely from spur-of-the-moment shock at the outrages in Selma. Back in November, the President had ordered White House aides and Justice Department attorneys to begin designing a powerful and unprecedented measure to assure Negro voting rights. Well aware that it would be subjected to a quick and savage attack from the South on constitutional grounds, Johnson warned Katzenbach: “I want this bill completely legal.” That was possible. But to make it completely tamperproof was another matter.

The notion that the Constitution absolutely assures every citizen the right to vote is quite wrong. “At the time the Constitution was framed,” explains University of Chicago Law Professor Philip Kurland, “it provided for only a limited franchise.” That franchise in 1789 went almost exclusively to white males; most Negroes were slaves, with no rights at all, and it was to be 131 years before women would be permitted to vote.

The hearings leading up to the vote on the bill made clear that the federal government’s prior efforts to block discriminatory laws and protect the right to vote had not been enough. (For example, when Congress granted federal access to voter registration records, Mississippi responded with a law that gave registrars the right to burn those very papers.) Under the new law, the federal government would have power to intervene directly if and when a state passed a law that would block certain citizens from voting. In essence, the bill picked up where the 15th Amendment left off. And weeks later, blacks wasted little time registering and getting out to vote, as TIME observed later that month:

They came last week in battered autos and chartered buses and on foot. They stood in the shimmering heat of midsummer, and they waited. Even when registrars assured them, “We’ll be here past today —we’ll be here a long time,” they still waited. They had, after all, waited a long while for this moment. Their patience was rewarded. In four days, 41 federal registrars added 6,998 Negro voters to the rolls in counties where there had previously been only 3,857.

Read more about the Voting Rights Act, from 1965, here in the TIME Vault: Trigger of Hope

Read more about what happened after the law was passed: The Voting Rights Act at 50: How It Changed the World

TIME Civil Rights

The Voting Rights Act at 50: How It Changed the World

The landmark civil rights legislation was signed on Aug. 6, 1965—but that's just the beginning of the story

It was only eight days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on Aug. 6 of 1965 that federal voting examiners speedily dispatched to Selma, Ala., proceeded in a single day to register 381 new black voters, more than had managed to register in Dallas County over the last 65 years. Local Sheriff Jim Clark’s hair-trigger resort to physical violence against would-be black registrants had left little doubt of his determination that such a day would never come for his town. Yet, ironically, he had actually helped to assure that it did, when, back in March of that year, he led the charge in the savage “Bloody Sunday” beating and maiming of voting-rights marchers, an event that had sparked national outrage and spurred demands for stronger federal intervention. By November, the county had 8,000 new black voters—and, not coincidentally, after the next May’s primary elections it would have a new sheriff as well, leaving Jim Clark to try his hand at selling mobile homes.

Though the consequences were rarely so immediate, the new law’s impact was otherwise much the same anywhere a white minority had historically ruled with an iron hand. The Justice Department could now send examiners to any state or county where a literacy test or a similar deterrent to black registration had been in effect as of the 1964 presidential election and where turnout or registration for that election had fallen below 50% of the voting age population. Such “special coverage” jurisdictions were also required to seek federal “pre-clearance” prior to changing their election or voting procedures. Initially, these provisions applied to every Deep South state except Florida, plus Virginia and some 40 counties in North Carolina. And they worked, nowhere more obviously than in Mississippi, where the percentage of eligible black voters registered ballooned from 7% in 1964 to 67% just five years later. The new measure’s reaffirmation of the right to vote regardless of “race or color” applied to all states, and by 1980 the percentage of the adult black population on the voter rolls in the South had already surpassed that in the rest of the country. Although 3 million more white than black voters were added to southern rolls in the 1960s, the Voting Rights Act’s “special coverage” states, which showed a combined total of 72 black elected officials in 1965, boasted nearly 1,000 a decade later. By the mid-1980s there were more black people in public office across the South than in the rest of the nation combined Although the share of public officeholders still fell well short of the black share of the population, by 2001 the gap outside the South was nearly 4 times greater than within it.

The tangible benefits of the Voting Rights Act for blacks did not stop there, as economic historian Gavin Wright has recently shown. Even before black candidates began to win public offices, even in remote areas like Panola County, on the edge of the Mississippi Delta, white politicians were wooing the most influential members of the black community. There and elsewhere, black residents who had long despaired of ever getting their streets repaired were suddenly spotting maintenance and even paving crews in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, as Wright and others have indicated, from courthouses to statehouses, a significant black presence has typically meant meaningful gains in black employment, income and opportunity. Even in still-impoverished areas, black political empowerment has brought a noticeable increase in the share of state transfer payments. James Button’s study of six Florida cities shows black municipal employment quadrupling between 1960 and 2000, with blacks occupying 25% of the supervisory positions by the end of that span. Blacks in elected positions could boost private employment as well. Maynard Jackson became Atlanta’s first black mayor in 1974 and by the time his successor Andrew Young left office in 1990, the city had granted almost 1,600 contracts to more than 600 minority-owned firms.

Such gains have not gone unnoticed—for better or worse. The Supreme Court has recently grown more tolerant of efforts to chip away at the signature political achievement of the Civil Rights Movement, often reverting to the same logic (looking for proof of discriminatory intent rather than discriminatory effect) that undid the 15th Amendment’s original voting-rights guarantees more than a century ago. By Election Day 2012, 19 states had imposed restrictions on registration or voting that could depress minority turnout—including five still subject to the original 1965 preclearance requirement. The Court brushed this obstacle aside, however, ruling on June 25, 2013, in Shelby County [Ala.] v. Holder that the preclearance stricture was not only unconstitutional but long since unnecessary. The Voting Rights Act had worked so well, the logic went, that it was no longer needed. Within hours, lawmakers in a number of states were preparing to add voting provisions. For example, Republican legislators in North Carolina moved to cut the state’s early voting period almost in half, eliminate same-day registration and impose a much more stringent identification requirement. With these measures currently under scrutiny in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem, NAACP lawyers have taken to calling the case “our Selma.” And, just this Wednesday, a federal panel found that one Texas identification requirement did violate the 1965 act.

Yet just as some modern Supreme Court decisions have echoed the logic of the past, we should be mindful that the Court’s readiness in the late 19th century to dismantle the civil rights protections implemented during Reconstruction was no mere regional accommodation but indicative of a national abandonment of the cause of racial equality. Today, with the South accounting for only 40% of the states with active, recently imposed voter restrictions, the Sheriff Jim Clarks of the modern world are as likely to practice their subtler forms of intimidation in Madison as in Montgomery, suggesting that, instead of bringing closure to a long struggle, the current battle in North Carolina is surely but one of many more to come.

Read more about the lead-up to 1965: The Voting Rights Act at 50: How the Law Came to Be

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

James C. Cobb is Spalding Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Georgia and a former president of the Southern Historical Association.


How to Watch Tonight’s Republican Debate Online

Here are the livestream options

Don’t have a cable subscription? Unfortunately, there are limited online options to watch Thursday’s Republican primary presidential debate hosted by Fox News.

The main debate will be broadcast live from Cleveland at 9 p.m. ET on FOX News Channel, according to the network. It will also be streamed live at FOXNews.com and on the Fox News app, both of which require a cable subscription login. The second tier debate for candidates who didn’t make the top 10 in terms of polling numbers will be broadcast the same way at 5 p.m.

For those who don’t have cable TV, there’s always Twitter, Facebook and live blogs for following along in real-time.


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