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What Donald Trump Can Learn From Colin Kaepernick

What Donald Trump Can Learn From Colin Kaepernick

Donald Trump should take a few lessons in leadership from Colin Kaepernick, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin, and other NFL players who bravely use their platforms to lift the voices of the least powerful, and do so in a way that honors this country’s deep and important protest tradition.

Last year, Colin, a 29 year old Pro-Bowler with a 126 million dollar contract, took a knee during the national anthem to protest police shootings of unarmed citizens and other injustices in the criminal legal system. He took a knee for Eric Garner, a man who NYPD officers choked to death even as he pleaded — “I can’t breathe.” He took a knee for Walter Scott, a man in North Charleston, South Carolina, whom a police officer shot in the back while Scott was running away. He took a knee for Freddie Gray in Baltimore, for Tamir Rice in Cleveland, for Michael Brown in Ferguson, and for the hundreds of other disproportionately black, mostly impoverished, often unarmed people that police officers kill each year.

Colin’s bravery cost him dearly. Kaepernick’s worst season in the NFL is demonstrably better than the best season many quarterbacks in the league right now have ever had. But he can’t get a job. Many teams who desperately needed a solid starter, or even a reliable backup, this season ignored Colin Kaepernick at their own expense.

Jim Souhan, a respected sportswriter in Minneapolis who covers the Vikings, said it best in his piece entitled “The Vikings Should Have Gambled on Colin Kaepernick.” After a brutal loss for the Vikings, Sohan wrote:

Last year, Keenum threw nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions before being benched. Last year, Kaepernick threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick is bigger, stronger, faster, possesses a better arm and has been a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl, where he came within one pass of winning.

The NFL has conspiratorially blackballed Kaepernick for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the unjustified shootings of black Americans by police.

Some owners don’t want him on their team, wrongly conflating a peaceful protest with an attack on our country or our soldiers.

There is no comparison between Keenum and Kaepernick. The Vikings and other teams decided that they prefer comfortable losses to uneasy victories. Sunday’s loss was about as comfortably numbing as they get.

I haven’t been able to shake what Souhan said. Not just the Vikings, but the Browns, the Bengals, the Colts, the Bears, and the 49ers — all winless — made the exact same decision that they, too, preferred “comfortable losses to uneasy victories.”

This is not OK.

Colin Kaepernick did not break the law. He is an upstanding citizen. He has never been arrested. He has never been suspended. In fact, what he did do, by taking a silent knee during the National Anthem to protest injustice and police brutality in America, didn’t even violate NFL rules.

But here he is — in essence — fired, terminated, banned even, from the NFL during the prime of physical career. Yes, I know that the NFL doesn’t hire quarterbacks — the 32 individual teams do — but it is clearer now than ever that what we are watching is absolutely not a football decision.

Both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, arguably the two best quarterbacks in the NFL, and two of the best quarterbacks of all time, have each argued that Colin Kaepernick deserves to be in the league right now. Colin has led teams to victory against each of those men on their own fields. Yet players that have never made it to the playoffs once in their career, that have never defeated the Packers or Patriots at home, have jobs and Colin Kaepernick does not.

What we are witnessing is the unethical, immoral sacrifice of Colin Kaepernick’s career because he dared to take a quiet stance against injustice in America. It’s wrong. It’s gross. It’s unfair.

Here’s the thing, though. When Colin took a knee, took a risk, took a stand against an unjust criminal legal system, he helped to ignite a movement.

Yesterday, Donald Trump called them sons of bitches, the NFL players who take a knee each week during the national anthem to protest injustice in America. But that just shows how little Donald Trump knows about protest, about speaking up for the voiceless, about putting your money where your mouth is. Trump calls them sons of bitches, and I call them heroes.

Donald Trump is a man that uses his power and platform to crush our most vulnerable neighbors. Whether he’s promising to build a wall to keep out hard-working immigrants; ordering ICE to round-up and deport people who have made a living and a life in this country; or pushing to strip health care from millions of people, Donald Trump is the antithesis of Profiles in Courage.

By contrast, Colin Kaepernick is a man of impeccable character and integrity. This past season his teammates voted to give him the highest honor available for his life on and off the field. Just this past week the NFL Player’s Association gave Colin their Community MVP Award for his outstanding community service and generosity. And now he is a man without job — standing up for his values cost him everything. But do you know what Colin does when he’s down on his luck? He continues to donate money — over $900,000 and counting — to fight injustice. He spends his weekend handing out suits to formerly incarcerated citizens who are returning to their communities and looking for jobs. He’s a man who puts his money where his mouth is.

Colin isn’t alone. Malcolm Jenkins, the standout safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, who raises his fist each week during the national anthem, like Colin, has donated from his clothing line to provide dress clothes for returning citizens who need a job and a second chance. Along with Anquan Boldin, who retired from the Detroit Lions this year to focus on philanthropy, Malcolm is helping to lead the push for Clean Slate legislation in Pennsylvania, which, if passed, would automatically seal the records of people convicted of certain low level offenses after ten years. Both Malcolm and Anquan also have spoken against life without parole for juveniles (America is the only place in the world that has such sentences), pushed to end cash bail (which keeps people locked up based on their poverty, not their safety risk), and pressed against the long mandatory minimum sentences that fuel mass incarceration.

When these guys take a knee or raise a fist tomorrow, they aren’t disrespecting the flag or our country. These players are engaging in deeply patriotic, selfless, and brave protest to raise awareness to the injustices that persist in America’s criminal justice system. America would be a better place, if Donald Trump showed a fraction of the courage and leadership these players show everyday.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

The Trials of Leon Cannizzaro

The Trials of Leon Cannizzaro

Leon Cannizzaro faced off against the New Orleans City Council this past Wednesday. What began as a request for the council to restore $600,000 in funding to the District Attorney’s office turned into a referendum on Cannizzaro’s punitive tactics and general lack of concern for people’s constitutional rights. He’s been written about before for harassing defense attorneysthreatening eyewitnesses who change their testimony with perjury charges, and ignoring compelling cases of actual innocence.

Cannizzaro’s overall budget is about $15 million, one of the highest prosecutor budgets in the state of Louisiana. Cannizzaro has long bemoaned his office’s budgetary restraints, arguing that they detract from his office’s ability to do its job. This year, the City Council reduced Cannizzaro’s budget by $600,000 (about 5% of his budget), an amount that last year had mostly gone to a Conviction Integrity Unit that Cannizzaro voluntarily disbanded after failing to exonerate a single person. The meeting on Wednesday turned into what seemed like a referendum on Cannizzaro’s effectiveness.

New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams was one of the people most critical of Cannizzaro.

“We don’t want to be embarrassed by The New York Times, Washington Post, other national media, who think that we’re running some kind of southern-fried, backwoods operation that is putting rape victims in jail and sending out fake subpoenas,” he said, referring to recent news reports and a report by Court Watch revealing that Cannizzaro had been jailing raping victims and issuing fake subpoenas.

The City Council also brought up, with disapproval, the fact that Cannizzaro send more youth to the adult system than other prosecutors in Louisiana. “We need the DA’s practices to come into the 21st century,” one Council member said.

The latest scandal, reported by Charles Maldonando at The Lens, is a fake subpoena allegedly used to pressure a teenage molestation victim to testify. The documents in question, which purported to be valid legal documents but were not, threatened criminal sanctions if the recipients failed to meet with prosecutors for an interview. (While prosecutors can compel witnesses to appear and testify, they must get a judge to sign off. These papers did not.) The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint about this issue against Cannizzaro’s office.

Cannizzaro, for his part, whined about the budget cut, saying that it would impact victims and their families. Every year since 2011, he has complained about his budget, saying it has caused him to move misdemeanor cases out of municipal court and that it is a reason behind the city’s crime rate. This is part of a larger war Cannizzaro has been waging against city officials — including Mayor Mitch Landrieu — who are increasingly weary of Cannizzaro’s mad-dog tactics.

In June, Cannizzaro penned an op-ed where he blasted Landrieu for failing to understand his office’s “aggressive enforcement strategy,” which Cannizzaro argues is appropriate. He also attacked Williams, his main critic during Wednesday’s meeting. Cannizzaro argues, and continues to argue, that his office needs money to be as aggressive as possible.

It is telling that the New Orleans City Council is now able to see through Cannizzaro’s fear-mongering tactics and appreciate that charging more people and sending more people to prison is not tackling the real challenges the city faces.

Note: A request for comment to Cannizzaro’s office went unanswered.

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution

Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution

The organization I founded, JustLeadershipUSA’s, slogan is “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” It’s a slogan based on history. No movement for social justice has ever succeeded without the full participation and leadership of those most affected. The incredible movement to vanquish HIV/AIDs would never have happened without Act Up. The same can be said about the historic achievements of the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement and the LGBTQ movement.

By the same token, without reform efforts led by formerly incarcerated people, many of them graduates of Leading with Conviction, the leadership training program run by our organization, the movement to end mass incarceration in the U.S. will not get to the finish line. Without our willingness to push the envelope and bring the sense of urgency needed to overcome decades’ worth of misguided, reactionary criminal justice policymaking, the country may squander its chance to bring about transformative change. Such change is possible, but only if we have a seat at the table and a role in deciding what’s on the menu.

In spite of the stigma and marginalization experienced by people with criminal convictions, we have built a vibrant human rights movement that challenges the most basic premises upon which this country’s criminal justice system is based. If I had to pick an event that marked the beginning of our movement it would be the 2003 founding of All of Us or None in California by Dorsey Nunn. All of Us or None went on to launch the Ban the Box campaign which has done such an amazing job of raising awareness about the collateral consequences of a criminal record. This work led to the passage of hundreds of local “ban the box” laws and, most importantly, has opened the door to fair employment practices for tens of thousands of people who would otherwise have been shut out.

This was followed by the publication of Eddie Ellis’s “language letter,” another powerful landmark in our movement’s history. Eddie Ellis (1941–2014) founded the Center for NU Leadership in New York City, and in 2007 he wrote “An Open Letter to Our Friends on the Question of Language.” The letter urged allies to reject terms like “inmate,” “convict,” “prisoners” and “felons” which were “devoid of humanness” and to refer to us as “PEOPLE in prison,” PEOPLE with criminal convictions,” etc. “ He wrote, “We believe we have the right to be called by a name we choose, rather than one someone else decides to use.” This was an empowering moment for us.

Susan Burton is another pioneer of the formerly incarcerated people’s movement. She founded A New Way of Life back in 1998 and called attention to the terrible conditions of confinement for incarcerated women and the barriers they faced when released.

These early grassroots efforts gathered momentum, and exactly a year ago the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement held its first national conference in Oakland, CA. More than 500 people from more than 30 states came together to unite behind a 14-point platform whose first point reads:

“The first goal of changing the criminal justice system is to create and implement alternatives to incarceration, working toward a society where prisons do not exist. We demand the end of mass incarceration and commit ourselves to fighting the notion and the practice of building new prisons, juvenile detention facilities and immigration detention centers.”

Yes, we fight for incremental reforms in order to alleviate suffering. But we never forget that our long term objective is to build a society where restoration, not incarceration, is the answer. We understand that if we shoot for an audacious goal then everything else becomes low(er) hanging fruit. This is the strategy we have successfully employed in the #CLOSErikers Campaign which was launched by JustLeadershipUSA a little over a year ago. By sticking to our uncompromising demand that Rikers Island could not be reformed but had to be shuttered, we hastened the removal of young people from the island, won limits on solitary confinement, put a spotlight on the inequities of New York City’s bail system, AND pressured a reluctant mayor to announce that closing Rikers is now the city’s policy.

Bold and audacious efforts to end mass incarceration led by formerly incarcerated leaders are going on all over the country: campaigns to raise the age of criminal responsibility, to restore voting rights to people with records, to close prisons and jails, to end mandatory sentencing, and to shut down private prisons, to name a few.

Glenn E. Martin is the President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), an organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. He is part of the vanguard of advocates working to make that future a reality. His goal is to amplify the voice of the people most impacted, and to position them as reform leaders. At its core, JLUSA challenges the assumption that formerly incarcerated people lack the skills to thoughtfully weigh in on policy reform. Rather, JLUSA is based on the principle that people closest to the problem are also the people closest to its solution.
Mr. Martin speaks from personal experience, having spent six years incarcerated in a New York State prison in the early 1990s. That experience has informed his career, which has been recognized with honors such as the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, 2017 Brooke Russell Astor Award, and the 2014 Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellowship. Mr. Martin is also the founder of the #CLOSErikers campaign. Prior to founding JLUSA, he was the Vice President of The Fortune Society, the Co-Director of the National HIRE Network at the Legal Action Center, and the co-founder of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are Mr. Martin’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

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