Ashcroft, Racism and the Democrats

John Ashcroft may be Attorney-General, but Senate Democrats are proud that they have “sent a message” to President-Select Bush and his Republican partners-in-crime by their 42 votes in opposition, one more than needed to keep a filibuster going. 42 votes that, on an immediate, practical level, mean nothing, really.

It’s ironic. One plus 41 equals 42.

There was not one–not one!–U.S. Senator willing to support the dozen or so members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had the courage to buck the system and challenge the official selection of Bush as President by the electoral college. If only one had done so, for a brief period of time, the illegitimacy of the Bush regime would have been exposed through debate in the halls of Congress. But there was NOT ONE!

There were, however, 41 bullets fired by four, white NYPD police officers two years ago today at an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, standing in the vestibule of his home in the South Bronx.

One plus 41 equals 42, and here’s the real problem: not only is Bush the President and Ashcroft the Attorney-General and Amadou Diallo dead; the killers of Diallo were acquited of all charges by a criminal justice system that, as experienced by black, brown and red people in the United States, is riddled, cancer-like, with racism. After all, close to three quarters of the two million people in prison or jail–the highest rate of any country in the entire world–are black or brown, despite being about 25% of the population.

Think about it. Especially if you’re a white person: think about it, please.

I’ve just returned from a rally in the Bronx in front of 1157 Wheeler Avenue, the late Amadou Diallo’s home. There were a number of good things about the rally, but I and others there were not happy about the proliferation of Democratic Party politicians who spoke. At one point, New York City Comptroller and Mayoral candidate Alan Hevesi, an establishment Democrat from way back, was prevented from speaking by the boos from the crowd after he said, “Most police are decent people.” I never heard another word that he tried to say over the loudspeaker before he left the stage about five minutes later.

Most white people, including progressive white people, probably agree with Hevesi. As experienced by most white people, what Hevesi said is pretty true. But because of “the wall between,” as Anne Braden has described the wall of racism and white supremacy, there is far too much white ignorance of how the police and criminal justice system are experienced by communities of color. It is truly as if we are living in different countries.

It’s really a form of social pathology, this denial of racism. As another example, here’s what nationally-syndicated, liberal columnist John Farmer had to say about Ashcroft and his racism, in a Jan. 8th column as carried in the Newark, N.J. Star-Ledger: “Less well-known is Ashcroft’s opposition to a voluntary desegregation of St. Louis schools. Or his honorary degree from South Carolina’s Bob Jones University–a hotbed of anti-black and anti-Catholic bile. Then there are his laudatory comments about the Old Confederacy in ‘Southern Partisan,’ a magazine nostalgic for the rebel past. None of this warrants labeling Ashcroft a racist, as some liberals do.”

I guess for John Farmer, you’re not a racist unless you’re a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, John Birch Society or their ilk. His moderation in defense of racism is all too typical of those in the corporate media and those in leadership of the two corporate parties. Which brings me back to the 42 Senate Democrats who voted against Ashcroft.

There were this many votes primarily because of the groundswell of independent, grassroots pressure which forced most Senate Democrats to take the stands which they did. This grassroots movement was composed of liberal and progressive Democrats and liberal and progressive independents. Some of these people were at each other’s political throats two months before in bitter debate over whether Nader or Gore was the correct Presidential choice.

A good chunk–not all, certainly, but a significant percentage–of this grassroots movement has an understanding on some level about the pernicious and destructive nature of racism and the need to oppose it.
And it is relatively united on a range of other issues. It is essential that we actively search for ways to continue working together in the future, which has to mean that we do so in a way which recognizes both the commonalities on issues and the differences when it comes to longer-range political strategy. If we do this, if we do it with explicit and conscious anti-racism at its center, then there is reason to believe that these four years under Bush could see the emergence of a powerful, multi-racial, independent movement with significant leadership from African Americans/people of color, as this country experienced during the 1980s with the Rainbow movement.

Absent such a development, Senate Democrats and House Democrats cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Absent such a movement, forget their having the intestinal fortitude to conduct needed filibusters. But with such a movement, there is hope, real hope for this country, not just in the short term under Republican rule but in the urgent task of saving this earth and the possibility of true democracy, with justice and freedom for all.