Lay off of Sharpton…What are YOU doing?

Al Sharpton

Elliot Millner, J.D.

Because of his prominent position as the de facto spokesperson for the Jackson family since Micheal Jackson’s death, a new round of Sharpton-bashing has ensued.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many, MANY valid criticisms that can be made regarding Rev. Al, and I will acknowledge that I have made many myself. Sharpton has done many things that I strongly disagree with. However, things have gotten completely out of hand regarding the manner in which some people attack this man. As someone who considers himself somewhat active, I tend to be quick to defend those Black people who are actually out working in some manner to do things(as they see it) that will benefit the community and society as a whole. Even if I don’t agree with their methods, or even significant parts of their message, they get a certain amount of respect for simply putting themselves out there.

As I’ve stated in previous post, I’m all for constructive criticism, as it is a necessary tool for growth individually and collectively. However, many of the derogatory things being said about Sharpton are far from constructive, and most irritating to me, are being said by people sitting on their couches eating Cheetos and watching TMZ, who are not making the slightest attempt to do anything that is of any value to anyone or anything other than themselves.

Does Sharpton love the spotlight? I don’t know him personally, but he definitely doesn’t seem camera-shy. Is he a self-promoter? Seems like it, and what public-figure isn’t? Does he consider how an event will benefit him before he decides to take up its cause? Maybe. But you know what? He still does it, and that’s kind of the point. Regardless of what benefit he may get from taking up a particular cause, he still does it. Even after being stabbed, he still does it. Even after spending time in jail, he still does it. Even after being criticized by many Black folks, a lot of whom know absolutely nothing about the things he has done or is doing outside of what they see on FoxNews or CNN, he still does it.

You think Sharpton couldn’t just be a “pulpit-pimp” and make lots of money and still get a lot of attention(Sharpton could out “Jakes” Jakes anyday) from the media? Of course he could. Sharpton has been working in the Black community since he was a teenager, and it is just plain ignorant how many Black people disregard all of his work because they don’t like some of the things he’s said or done, or don’t like his hair, or his “attention-whoring”,etc.

Sharpton has been the main voice, OUR main voice, on many issues that the mainstream media would’ve otherwise swept under the rug. Go back and look at the events that Sharpton has helped draw attention to, and ask yourself “If not him, then who”? The treatment of Sharpton by many Black people reminds me of how a lot of people view attorneys. They are blood-suckers, professional liars, opportunists, ambulance-chasers, swindlers, etc…until you need one. Sharpton doesn’t go anywhere uninvited. Sadly, many of us are repeating the foolish mistake of allowing others to tell us who our friends should be and what we should think of our own people. The same think happened with Paul Robeson, MLK(yes, even him), Malcolm X, Farrakhan, and the list could go on. The most vocal critics of Sharpton are those who want to ignore the continued existence of racism and other forms of discrimination and inequality in America.

Sharpton has never proclaimed himself “the spokesperson of Black people” as many unenlightened folks have suggested. If anything keeps Sharpton “in business”, it’s the apathy of those who have benefited the most from the works of people like him, and Jesse Jackson, and Minister Farrakhan, among others. Regardless of what those who have swallowed the “racism is dead” pill may think, there is and will continue to be a need for people like Al Sharpton, regardless of his imperfections. Some of us may not realize that until he is no longer here.


Black People, the Supreme Court, and Our Rights.

Elliot Millner, J.D.











The United States Supreme Court recently made a number of decisions that continued this conservative-leaning courts pattern of taking a jackhammer to the barriers put in place in order to protect the rights of people historically susceptible to discriminatory and oppressive conduct, which definitely includes  Black people.

The most recent decision resulted from a case involving a group of white firefighters in New Haven, CT, who alleged that the city of New Haven was guilty of “reverse discrimination” for refusing to continue using a promotion exam that showed a clear disparate impact on Black and Hispanic firefighters(If the exam had been used, 17 whites, 2 Hispanics, and 0 Blacks would have been promoted).  The court, in a 5-4 decision, sided with the white firefighters, stating that the city of New Haven’s “fear of litigation” was not enough of a reason to not use the exam, nor was the disparate impact on Blacks and Hispanics in itself sufficient reason. The court gave a new standard requiring a “strong basis of evidence” to show that the city may be liable for disparate impact on a protected group, instead of the previous “good faith basis” that had been applied in previous cases. Although the court did not give a rule as to what constitutes a strong-basis of evidence, it can be easily concluded that the result of this decision will be to make it more difficult to prove claims of disparate impact regarding the use of promotional exams, both in public and private employment.

Combine this decision with the courts decision in a recent age-discrimination case, and a decision by the court blocking  the right of potentially innocent people to obtain post-conviction DNA testing in order to prove their  innocence(a decision the Obama administration supported-another disturbing pattern), and what we have are clear warning flags that the rights of many people (Black people in particular) are in serious jeopardy.  

It is an observed trend that when the economy is not doing well, employment discrimination claims rise. As Black people, many of us are also aware that we are often the first to suffer during times of economic hardship, and that we also generally feel the effects more than others. The saying “last hired, first fired” is not a myth, but a sad reality for many of us. When times get hard, employers are more likely to attempt to find reasons to get rid of employees. Most employers will do this in a legal and ethical manner(or so we hope). However, the reality is that many will not, and when they don’t, they are far more likely to use those unjust methods of firing(or not promoting, or not hiring) against Black people.

The courts decisions are a continuation of its willful ignorance, and an example of how far from being a “post-race” society we really are. The court is simply a microcosm of the rest of white supremacist/white privileged society, which is using the election of a Black president as a sort of “get out of worrying about rights” card. Although most people who don’t have their heads buried in the sand realize that racism, specifically institutional) and discrimination are still issues, and that most of this conduct is not done in a blatant manner, the Supreme Court continues to make it so that a person almost has to witness or hear the act of discrimination in order to be successful. It is highly doubtful that many people will be caught saying “I designed this test so that no Blacks would be promoted”, or “I am not hiring that person because they are too old”.

The court, and many others in America with self-serving motives, are strongly pushing the “post-race mythology”. This includes numbers of Black people as well. It is easy for those who still occupy the majority of positions of power(and yes, white people do, regardless of who our president is) to argue that things are equal now, and that there need not be any more focus on the rights of those who have been historically oppressed. It is also easier for those Black people who have achieved some level of financial success to ignore the realities still faced by far too many of us. Those who have and are prospering from the status quo, have the least motivation to want to change it. This approach of promoting the myth of racial harmony and equality over the reality of continued racism and discrimination will only result in more harm for Black people in the long term. The impetus for challenging this drive to promote the illusion of racial equality must come from us.

We must be vocal and active in the face of this machine that is working to take us backwards in time. Allowing ourselves to be blinded by a Black face in the presidential office is the worst mistake we could make. That is not an attack on President Obama, it is a message to those “fans” who think they are doing him or us a favor by not challenging him(or other elected officials, or the courts) on issues that may have a great lasting impact on us.

Troy Davis: Life/Death Around the Corner?

Troy Davis

Troy Davis

by Elliot Millner, J.D.

I have faced execution and the torment of saying goodbye to my family three times in the last two years and I may experience that trauma yet again; I would not wish this on my worst enemy and to know I am innocent only compounds the injustice I am facing.”- Troy Davis, from Georgia’s death row, on facing a fourth possible execution date.

For those who are unaware, Troy Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for about 18 years, after being convicted of murdering police officer Mark McPhail(Mr. Davis has maintained his innocence from the very beginning).

It would take pages to give all of the details of Troy Davis’ case, however I will say that there was no physical evidence found(including a murder weapon) connecting Troy Davis to the killing of Officer McPhail; he was convicted largely on the basis of inconsistent and often contradictory eyewitness testimony. The vast majority of those prosecution eyewitnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony implicating Mr. Davis, and one of those who hasn’t is Sylvester Coles, the main alternative suspect presented by the defense during Troy Davis’ trial. In addition, there have been multiple allegations of police coercion and the usage of unethical interrogation techniques.

(For additional information on Troy Davis’ case, or to get information on how to act, check out and

Troy Davis’ ordeal has been going on for nearly two decades now, and is nearing its end, one way or the other. He has had numerous appeals denied(most recently in April 2009), habeas corpus petitions denied, stays of execution granted and expired, and also had one request for clemency denied by the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles(the same board that would decide any future request for clemency regarding Troy Davis).

As absurd as it sounds, relative to many others on death row, Troy Davis is ‘lucky’. He is lucky in the sense that his case has drawn national and international attention, from a broad range of activists and celebrities. He has lawyers and organizations working around the clock to save his life, and draw attention to the injustices present in his particular case, and also to those injustices present in the application of the death penalty in the United States in general(particularly in cases involving Black defendants and white victims, such as this).

Compared to the multitude of nameless, faceless(and disproportionately Black and poor) people occupying death rows across the U.S., Troy Davis has a chance at life, however slim. He is the newest face of the anti-death penalty movement, and the most recent example of a Black man being sentenced to death for the murder of a white person(in this case also a police officer) under very questionable circumstances.

It is often difficult for people to get outraged regarding someone convicted of murder and sentenced to death row. Regardless of whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, the reality is that many of the people on death row are guilty of murder, sometimes involving extreme mitigating factors, such as the murder of a child, or torture, even cannibalism. That is not the issue here. Even though there is significant evidence raising doubt as to whether Troy Davis murdered Officer McPhail, the ultimate issue is about the fairness of the process and equality of treatment, and in my view there is more than sufficient evidence showing that Troy Davis had the deck stacked against him, as is often the case for Black and poor defendants.

Act in some way to help Troy Davis, whether it be writing a letter or spreading the word. However, do not forget those others who do not have the same publicity. This issue is bigger than Troy Davis, and it is important for us to address anything involving the unjust treatment of a Black person(regardless of where they are), especially when it involves the ultimate penalty.

Black People and the Police Force: Can’t Trust’em?

Police Officer pic 1

By Elliot Millner, J.D.

In the past several weeks, there have been numerous incidents involving the police and Black people, that have resulted in serious injury and death on both sides. This includes several recent incidents in Oakland, California; in Seattle, a 15-year old girl brutally beaten for being mouthy and kicking a shoe; an off-duty Black New York police officer being gunned down by a white officer; and other incidents in places around the country.

These are some of the most recent and extreme examples of a problem that, in one form or another, spans the length of U.S. history. The reality is that police forces, in varying forms, have been traditionally used as a tool to preserve and promote white supremacy, and to keep Blacks (particularly those in impoverished communities) “in their place”. The idea of “protecting and serving” as it relates to policing, had as its root and initial goal the same objective as most other laws and statutes enacted in this country: To protect the interests of property-owning white males. There are few areas in the United States(if any) where the police in some form or fashion have not actively participated in violating the rights of Black people, utilizing any methods deemed necessary, including murder. Although some things have changed, it is naive (to say the least) to think that the legacy upon which the idea of policing was built in this country(white supremacy and Black oppression) has been erased from its method of operation.

Very often there is only outrage shown when an extreme incident takes place(such as some of those stated earlier). However, despite a spike in the number of documented and observable incidents of police brutality(thanks to youtube and various other sites), the reaction of many to these acts of brutality has become more indifference than anger. The increased ease with which we can see a person being beaten or harassed by police seems to have desensitized many of us to the injustice involved. This is extremely unfortunate for all of us, but particular for those Black people who live in neighborhoods oversaturated with police officers, which increases their likelihood of becoming the next youtube sensation(for all the wrong reasons).

Like most things, the issue of police misconduct as it relates to Black people does not operate in a vacuum, and it is not one-sided. Are there criminals in Black communities? Absolutely, just like there are in almost all communities. Do they need to be held accountable for their actions? Yes they do(we can debate what type of accountability and how harsh, but that’s another issue altogether). Do the majority of police officers go out with the conscious goal of harassing Black people and/or brutalizing them? I’ll say no to that one(although far too many seem to have that mindset). However, the next question is the one that most avoid and refuse to ask or seek an answer to(especially those who believe the fantasy that we live in a “post-racial” society): Is the American method of policing(not necessarily individual police officers) white supremacist/racist at its root, and in need of a complete restructuring? I say yes, and history(including the very recent past) bears witness to this.

I realize that many of us were raised to respect authority. That is all fine and good. However, it is imperative that police, given their position, show respect to the citizens in the communities that they serve. In many instances they do, but there are far too many situations where they don’t, particularly in predominately Black communities. Also, the fact that most of the officers patrolling these communities do not live there only serves to increase the likelihood that they will be uncaring and disrespectful to the residents that they come in contact with.

We can no longer afford to have the attitude of “I’m just glad its not me” when it comes to acts of police misconduct. At the same time, it is not productive to simply scream “F*#@ the Police!” either. Furthermore, those of use who have moved to Suburbia or other areas where these issues are not so prevalent cannot rationalize the misconduct that takes place and the lack of accountability on the part of the police by following the lead of some and attempting to blame or criminalize entire communities of people. It is almost comical to see one of these “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about” people suddenly turn into Huey Newton when they are wrongly profiled, or are laying face down with a gun to their head for no valid reason.

One key result of regular negative interactions with police forces is the distrust and disdain for the police that is common amongst Black people, which results in incidents like the recent Oakland beating, where people who need to be held accountable may not be. The fear of testifying or “snitchin” is directly linked to the idea that the police cannot be trusted to protect a person when it counts, which is often the case.

The police are one part of a criminal justice system that is still demonstrably unjust in its dealings with Black people. This is not about hating individual police officers(My sister, whom I love dearly, is in law enforcement), it is about a way of doing things that is resulting in the absolute destruction of an entire segment of the Black population. 1 in 3 Black males between the ages of 20 and 29 is under some form of correctional supervision or control. (For more detailed statistics, check out, and

Police misconduct is not the only reason that Black men in America are going to prison. There are aspects of this problem that we can and should deal with ourselves, in our communities. Although there are extreme problems in the criminal justice system, there are also problems in Black communities that contribute to this path of destruction (that will be another post). However, a large part of the problem is the disparate way in which the criminal justice system has and does treat Black people.

We must start at the most basic level first. Knowing what our rights are when interacting with the police is imperative. Document/report any negative interaction you have with a police officer(this can include contacting city council, mayor’s office, or other representative, and even the press). Utilize the internet to spread the word or concern about a particular incident, including petitions if the situation calls for it.

In reality, there is a delusional segment of the population (possibly brainwashed by years of “tough on crime” propaganda) that will find a way to justify any act of police brutality, no matter how despicable. For everyone else, it is imperative to make it known ,through words and action, that this is a serious issue (even if this means addressing President Obama’s continued silence on the matter). As stated before, many lives are at stake. You don’t want to be the next face on that youtube screen.

Spike Lee and Tyler Perry: No Hate Involved…

Spike Lee

Spike Lee

Although I realize that we live in the internet-age, which means even the simplest of criticisms can be blown out of proportion, I am disappointed to see how some Black people are unable to intelligently respond to constructive criticism, even when it is not directed at them.

The person who is the latest target of the “He’s just a hater” orchestra is none other than renowned filmmaker Spike Lee. In a recent interview that he did with Ed Gordon, Spike dared to criticize some of Tyler Perry’s work(specifically Meet the Browns and House of Pain) and made references to the shows as “coonery” and “buffoonery” and compared them to Amos n’ Andy.

For the record, let me say that I agree with a lot of what Spike Lee said. Although I liked a couple of the Madea plays that I saw years back(even though I generally have issue with Black men parading around in dresses, even for comedy-but that’s another topic), these two shows don’t do anything for me. That’s just me, and I do realize that comedy is subjective; what’s funny to one person is not funny to another. However, any person familiar with the historical ‘coonery’ and ‘buffoonery’ that Spike Lee was referring to(reference Bamboozled if you haven’t seen it) would be hard pressed to argue his point that some of Tyler Perry’s characters do harken back to that era. If “Mr. Brown” isn’t the prototypical coon-type character, then what is? This is not to single Tyler Perry out, because there are other examples, and some of them aren’t actors(Flavor Flav).

And for those who make the simple-minded argument “well, if you don’t like it, don’t watch it”, then I respectully say to you to study up on propaganda and media manipulation, and realize that the images that we are bombarded with via television and internet DO have an impact(especially on more impressionable minds, i.e. children), and can greatly impact our self-image and the image that others have of us. This is especially true if that impressionable mind does not have an intelligent adult there to offset the negative images, as is the case in too many Black homes. I am as far from a WWWPT(What Would White People Think?) person as you can be, but perception does matter and can have an impact in our everyday lives.

The bigger issue that this situation brought to my mind was the way in which some Black people(bloggers and others) reacted to the comments. I am all for intelligent disagreement, no problem with that whatsoever. However, a disturbing trend seems to have taken over in the past few years. Actually, the ‘trend’ can be summed up in one word: Hater(or ‘hata’..’hataz’-plural). If I had to give a new definition for ‘hater’ as it is used in the present, it would be “A term commonly used by individuals either unwilling or unable to intelligently and non-emotionally acknowledge and respond to criticism(constructive or otherwise)”.

The most disturbing thing is that it is not only children and teenagers who find it acceptable to respond to anyone who says or does something they dislike by saying “You’re just a hater”, or “Don’t hate, appreciate”, or some other form of this dumbness. Adults, some supposedly educated, do it as well. Now don’t be me wrong, I still use slang myself in certain settings; I am not a grammar snob or stickler for ‘proper’ English by any stretch. My issue is not that it’s slang. It’s that the word(and the various phrases formed around it) has (for many) replaced intelligent, thought-out responses when faced with criticism or disagreement.

It seems that many of us have forgotten that criticism(and our mature response to it) is how we grow as a person. If someone is truly “hating” on you, meaning they are just being degrading or attacking you with no constructive intent, by all means, respond with as many ridiculous phrases from the hater manual as you like (“don’t hate, ice skate”, wtf). Otherwise, to avoid acknowledging the constructive critique being made(whether you like it or not…and it’s kind of the point of criticism that you may not like it), is to remain mentally stagnant(dead).

I have no doubts that Spike’s statements were made out of love and concern, and “hate” was the furthest thing from his mind. How backwards have some of us become that we praise and accept those who encourage and enable failure and ignorance, and “hate” those who attempt to strengthen us as a people, often by bringing things to our attention that many supposed friends and supporters refuse to?

It takes far more courage (and often, love) to criticize someone. The true “haters” are those who accept anything from anyone; who have no standards or respect, for themselves or others…not suprisingly, these are the main people hiding behind “hate”.