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Cages and Family Separation are Very American

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We who believe in justice are doing the right thing to raise hell on behalf of the children being torn from their parents based upon inhumane policies and racist attitudes. However, it’s a lack of historical knowledge that, when some declare that such a racist policy is un-American, or is in contraction with American values, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Also, those of us of darker hue totally understand not-so coded words like “zero tolerance.” It means you’re unwelcome and unwanted and the minute, the second that you do, say anything that whites find uncomfortable or unacceptable, you will be dealt with harshly and swiftly.

I thought about Trump’s policy and American history as the horrific images of traumatized refugee children crying for their parents were projected to the world.

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American history has vivid examples of families, especially families of color, being torn apart, being caged and being terrorized and tortured.

Africans kidnapped from their homeland set the precedent for separating children from their parents. The practice of viciously and intentionally destroying black families went on for over 250 years—a long time to hone this country’s skills. The policy returned throughout history such as black men/fathers couldn’t live with their families in public housing. Or the zealous anti-black implementation of mass incarceration.

Native Americans suffered a similar fate with their families. Their children were given to white families because it was believed that their heathen parents were incapable of raising them. Japanese Americans, who like other nationalities, worked hard to prove their patriotism, were uprooted from their communities and basically held in concentration camps until the war against Japan was over.

Children, sweet but vulnerable, have once again moved our nation. After mounting public pressure and negative headlines, Trump finally signed an executive order to stop the horrendous practice of family separation. But this is a man of warped thinking and a penchant for wanting to be a dictator. He cannot be trusted on any level.

Most of us know and have seen the hard, cold evidence that Trump will use anything and anybody to get his way. Children are not exempt. He is using holding them hostage to move his twisted immigration policy. I hope the American attention span will be long enough to make sure every child is where he or she is supposed to be no matter how long the bureaucracy tries to discourage our due diligence.

What most of the media seem not to focus on as much as the crying babies is that the conditions from which people are desperately fleeing are the result of U.S. foreign policy. These are not immigrants but refugees, fleeing for their lives from countries that are destabilized due to U.S. policy and intervention. Countries like Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have been torn asunder by military dictatorships supported by U.S. administrations. Add to the mix Americans’ insatiable appetite for drugs and U.S. collaborators (both corporate and government) fighting for their share of a multi-billions dollar drug market. The unfettered violence from turf wars have made innocent citizens collateral damage.

The Trump administration needs to be a target of a full-court press by all freedom-loving people. It has given us so many examples of how low it can go. The children have tugged at our heart strings enough to get temporary relief for their families, but they are not the only targets.

Those who are poor, Muslim, non-white, workers, independent thinkers are bigger targets. The Mueller investigation will not come soon enough. We must reclaim and protect the scattered remains of our democracy.

Towards a Humane Budget Process

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For the last several years, the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression has been facilitating a community engagement campaign on “Re-envisioning Public Safety.” In the town halls across the city, citizens were asked to think about what they would do with the portion of the city revenue we spend on an ineffective and racist arrest-and-incarceration model the city currently operates. I’m positive that if some of them had known about the recent public hearing on the city budget, they would’ve been there to give the Ways and Means Committee some solid suggestions about how to spend their hard-earned tax dollars.

Depending on how you cut it, the city spends 53-60 percent of its general revenue on police, courts, jails and other related agencies and programs. The goals of the campaign were to take our public consciousness past crime-fighting (reactive) to addressing the root causes of crime (proactive and preventive). Re-envisioning public safety has now morphed into reinvesting in public safety.

The knee-jerk response to crime in our city is to shout, “More police!” That is not the only answer to our crime problems, and our current situation is a testament to this fact. According to the Missouri attorney general’s latest racial profiling data, black folks are paying to be pulled over and searched in record numbers with very little return—meaning the amount of contraband doesn’t even come close to the number of police stops. And violent crimes continue.

A new city budget goes into effect on July 1. At a time when we keep hearing that money is tight, we have made few changes in the way that we approach the budget. The Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment need to embark upon a new and creative budget process that takes into consideration the well-being of all citizens, not just the few.

We should not be pretending all is well in St. Louis for everyone. It is not. There are neighborhoods which look like one of North Korea’s nukes hit them. Neighborhoods where they are food deserts, minimal health services and sub-standard housing. Then there are neighborhoods that have more than what they need. The inequality is mind-blowing.

Some of us believe the city should take a serious look at how and where to move money. These are places where revenues like hidden or untapped like the police forfeiture funds, like TIFs and other giveaways to corporations and developers, uncollected business taxes, etc. That asset forfeiture fund needs to be more than the police department’s slush fund.

Across the nation, citizens are demanding more input and control over their city’s budget. The concept of participatory budgeting is taking root and spreading. It’s more than just putting the budget on a website. It’s rethinking our priorities and making sure the money follows.

St. Louis needs to have a collective, comprehensive budget process that is humane, inclusive and futuristic. Let’s have a thoughtful but bodacious process that brings out the best in our city. A process that leads to funding basic human needs like jobs with livable wages, mental health services, adequate housing and community recreation.

The city budget is a starting place to make meaningful changes in our lives and the futures of our children. The knee-jerk response to problems is ineffectual. Working people keep getting saddled for the expensive failures of city decision-makers. The budget message is short and sweet: We have the means, let’s find the ways.