Juneteenth Reflections: Protecting and Preserving the Rights of African Americans

Photo Credit: iSidhe

Tumi Te Se Kosua is an African symbol that equates political power with the fragility of an egg. Hold on to an egg too tightly and it will crack. Hold it loosely, and it can fall and crack.

Amid Juneteenth celebrations, I find it helpful to reflect on how African Americans went from being enslaved to freeish, and what it takes to preserve, protect, and expand our rights.  The rights of African Americans have always been fragile and under assault.   Though there have been numerous Civil and Voting Rights Acts passed for which African Americans have benefited, a lot more is needed.  Structural racism is endemic to the United States, and consequently arduous and painstaking to remedy. 

In 2020, Cristal Starling was running a mobile food cart business, and had saved over $8,000.00 in hopes up upgrading her business to a food truck.  These plans came to a halt when police raided her home because her then boyfriend was merely suspected of being a drug dealer. During the raid, the money she saved to level up her business was confiscated.  She has been fighting to get it back since.  And though she made attempts to retrieve her funds, the court deemed these efforts inadequate as they did not meet their specific criteria and deadlines.  Starling to my knowledge is now working with the Institute of Justice to appeal this decision.  It is important to note that her (former) boyfriend was acquitted of these charges. 

Studies show that African Americans are disproportionately targeted for civil forfeiture.  That is, where law enforcement seizes assets when they believe said assets may be tied to criminal activities.  Nothing has to be proven, and once assets are seized, individuals have to jump through varying levels of hoops to retrieve their funds.  It matters not that such “suspicions” do not result in arrests or convictions.   Individuals affected are up against a powerful law enforcement bureaucracy that is incentivized to keep their “forfeited” assets. The Institute for Justice reports that civil forfeiture raises billions of dollars every year to the tune of 68.8. billion. 

Though civil forfeiture was designed to disrupt large scale criminal operations, the evidence suggests the practice is more likely to disrupt the life of everyday citizens.  The average forfeiture is $1,300.00.  That could mean money one set aside for Christmas gifts, a vacation, or to pay their rent or mortgage.  Further, there is little evidence that civil forfeiture leads to less crime.   Civil asset forfeiture is often referred to in civil and human rights circles as legalized theft. Most people who have assets forfeited do not recover what was lost. 

Obviously then, unabridged legalized theft does not protect and preserve your rights (e.g., liberty and the pursuit of happiness).  Instead of focusing on scaling up her business, Starling is tied up in a legal battle.  So what can be done to protect and preserve your rights? One thing is to get involved.  There are many organizations working to curb and end civil asset forfeiture including but not limited to the Institute for Justice, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  As such you can donate, volunteer, raise awareness, and communicate with elected officials (e.g., emails) about your disapproval of these and other law enforcement abuses. There has already been some push back as many jurisdictions have limited civil forfeiture. Some states have abolished the practice. Further, organizations such as the Black PAC work to hold elected officials accountable for policies that benefit and impact the black community.

A second thing we should do is vote. Protesting, getting involved, and raising awareness does not mean as much without voting.  Elected officials have the power to enact laws that are sufficiently just, weak, or neither.  Getting legislation passed such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021,  depended on which elected officials were at the table, and how many.  This legislation passed in the House of Representatives but did not get passed in the Senate.  Getting it passed would probably take a filibuster proof Democratic majority in the Senate while maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives.  I still believe passing this legislation is possible, but more people who want the legislation passed across the country would have to vote to maintain a House in favor of the legislation, and elect a Senate where it would pass. 

Enslavement taught us that if people can get away with exploiting others on a monumental and gruesome scale, for their own riches, they will.  It took a Civil War and a constitutional amendment to end enslavement, and still the liberty and pursuit of happiness for African Americans was continuously undermined through legalized discrimination and the exploitation of labor.  Further white nationalism is conspicuously trending, and I think it is clear which side of the aisle they align.  As such African Americans cannot afford to sit out elections. 

A third thing we can do is stay attuned to outcomes and agendas, and how we are affected.   When we vote, what are we getting?  Many would have African Americans believe they are not served by voting, and that other groups are being prioritized.  Fact check. Naming a few policies that benefit said groups (e.g., Asians, the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Queer, Transgender and Intersex (LBGQTI) community) is not evidence that African Americans are being overlooked.  Applicable laws, policies and practices are enacted every day.  These include but are not limited to investing billions of dollars in HBCUs, tweaking policies such that they better serve and do not discriminate against African Americans, and making appointments (e.g., Cabinet members and a Supreme Court Justice) that are representative of African Americans, both ethnically and ideologically. 

In terms of agendas, what is the agenda of those who would dissuade African Americans from exercising their right to vote?  For the far right, the agenda has been voter suppression to maintain or achieve power and perpetuate a system of White supremacy and privilege.  But what about naysayers within the African American community?  What is their agenda as they discourage African Americans from voting?  First, how would they know that voting is ineffectual?  Voter turnout among African Americans was below that of White Americans until 2008, when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. However Black voter turnout dipped again in 2010 and in 2016.  Therefore the Black vote does matter when turn out is high, which might explain why there has been so much vitriol in suppressing it. 

Why do naysayers within the community focus on who African Americans typically vote for, versus who they do not? What they fail to talk about are the consequences of not voting.  What if Obama were able to appoint a second Supreme Court nominee?  What if Hilary Clinton were elected President and appointed two Supreme Court justices instead? The reality is, the more conservative court has upheld restrictions on voting rights, made it more difficult to identify big donors of non profit organizations, and sided with Catholic Social Services of Philadelphia when they sued as a result of receiving consequences for refusing to certify gay couples as foster parents.  This is not to mention the presumed overturn of Roe v. Wade.  Big donors are identified for the sake of transparency, to ensure that said non profits are not a ruse for “dark money” politics or other nefarious purposes.  Religious discrimination as it pertains to public services is a slippery and subjective slope that can beget more discrimination on idiosyncratic grounds.  Black women have been fighting for the right not to be discriminated against for wearing their natural hair.  I wonder how this Supreme Court would rule on the Crown Act?   

Voting has the potential to maintain or enhance your liberties and pursuit of happiness.  Not voting has more potential to limit your rights as you are vote-less in determining who decides your rights. And though I am a Democrat, I am not telling you how to vote.  I am saying you should. 

And as always support black businesses!

Happy Juneteenth!


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  2. “Akan Cultural Symbols:  TUMI TE SE KOSUA – Power is like an egg.” 24 November, 2013.  http://ghanarising.blogspot.com/2013/11/akan-cultural-symbols-tumi-te-se-kosua.html
  3. American Civil Liberties Union.  “Asset Forfeiture Abuse.” https://www.aclu.org/issues/criminal-law-reform/reforming-police/asset-forfeiture-abuse
  4. Budiman, Abby.  “Key facts about Black eligible voters in key battleground states.”  21 October, 2020.  https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/21/key-facts-about-black-eligible-voters-in-2020-battleground-states/
  5. Ciaramella, C.J. “Cops seized $8000.00 from her and never charged her with a crime.”  7 April, 2022.  https://reason.com/2022/04/07/cops-seized-8000-from-her-and-never-charged-her-with-a-crime/
  6. “Civil forfeiture in the United States.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_forfeiture_in_the_United_States
  7. Craig, Gary.  “Rochester woman fights to get back 8K seized in raid;, she was not charged, no drugs found.”  6 April, 2022.  https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2022/04/06/rochester-woman-fighting-get-back-money-seized-raid-civil-forfeiture/9482057002/
  8. “Cristal Starling.” 6 April, 2022. https://ij.org/client/cristal-starling/
  9. “Dissecting the 2010 electorate.” 26 April, 2011. https://www.pewresearch.org/hispanic/2011/04/26/ii-dissecting-the-2010-electorate/
  10. “Exploiting Black labor after the abolition of slavery.”  6 February, 2017.  https://theconversation.com/exploiting-black-labor-after-the-abolition-of-slavery-72482
  11. Fact sheet:  The Biden-Harris administration advances equity and opportunity for Black people and communities across the country.”  28 February, 2022.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/02/28/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-administration-advances-equity-and-opportunity-for-black-people-and-communities-across-the-country-3/
  12. Farivar, Masood.  “Conservative supermajority on the US Supreme Court asserts itself.” 4 July, 2021. https://www.voanews.com/a/usa_conservative-supermajority-us-supreme-court-asserts-itself/6207778.html
  13. “George Floyd in Policing Act.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Floyd_Justice_in_Policing_Act
  14. Greenberg, Will.  “In just five years, Black PAC has become a key player in elections.” 6 October, 2021.  https://bluetent.us/blog/blackpac-teaser/
  15. Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.  “100 Day Report on Black appointments within the Biden administration.”  28 April, 2021.  https://jointcenter.org/100-day-report-on-black-appointments-in-biden-administration/
  16. Jones, Ja’jan. “The blatant racism behind the GOP’s anti abortion rhetoric.”  23 May, 2022.  https://www.msnbc.com/the-reidout/reidout-blog/republican-anti-abortion-racism-rcna30089
  17. “NAACP calls for civil asset forfeiture reform.” 2006.  https://naacp.org/resources/naacp-call-civil-asset-forfeiture-reform
  18. Nelson, Sophia A.  “Republicans need to reject the racism driving their party.” 16 May, 2022.  https://thegrio.com/2022/05/16/republicans-need-to-reject-the-racism-driving-their-party/
  19. “Papers:  Police seize 17M in 3 years; black targeted most.” 2 February, 2019. https://apnews.com/article/5f517abb9739471985700894e4f3519f
  20. Tensley, Brandon.  “America’s long history of Black voter suppression.” https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2021/05/politics/black-voting-rights-suppression-timeline/
  21. “United States v. $8040.00 United States Currency.” 2 March, 2022. https://casetext.com/case/united-states-v-804000-united-states-currency
  22. “White nationalism.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nationalism
  23. “Why civil asset forfeiture is legalized theft.” 23 July, 2015.  https://civilrights.org/resource/why-civil-asset-forfeiture-is-legalized-theft/#
  24. Wilson, J. Justin.  “Policing for profit:  The abuse of civil asset forfeiture.” https://ij.org/press-release/new-report-finds-civil-forfeiture-rakes-in-billions-each-year-does-not-fight-crime-2/
  25. Wright, Albert. “Federal loophole thwarts states efforts to curb civil asset forfeiture by police.”  19 August, 2021.  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/08/19/states-work-scale-back-civil-forfeiture-laws-amid-federal-loophole/8181774002/
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