Bloggers' Roundtable: Blacks Targets of Nuisance Laws? This week, a new poll finds growing tensions among Hispanics, Asians and African Americans. Plus, in Philadelphia, blacks say they are often the target of suburban nuisance laws. Our bloggers include Wayne Bennett, Richard Graves, and Carmen Van Kerckhove.
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Bloggers' Roundtable: Blacks Targets of Nuisance Laws?

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Bloggers' Roundtable: Blacks Targets of Nuisance Laws?

Bloggers' Roundtable: Blacks Targets of Nuisance Laws?

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Now, onto our Bloggers' Roundtable.

A new poll finds growing tensions among blacks, Hispanics and Asians. And in Philadelphia, blacks are a major target of suburban nuisance laws.

With us, we've got Wayne Bennett, an attorney who blogs as the Field Negro, also author and DJ Richard Graves who writes the blog DJ Black Adam, and Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder and president of New Demographic, an anti-racism training company, she blogs at racialicious.com, and we should mention, her blog won the 2007 Black Web Award for best group blog.

Welcome, everybody.

Ms. CARMEN VAN KERCKHOVE (Co-founder and President, New Demographic; Blogger, racialicious.com): Thanks for having us.

Mr. RICHARD GRAVES (Author; DJ; Blogger, Black Adam): Hello, Farai. How are you?

Mr. WAYNE BENNETT (Attorney; Blogger, The Field Negro): Hello.

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great.

So, Carmen, I'm going to start with you. There's this new poll from New America Media and it found that blacks, Hispanics and Asians view one another with deep suspicion. Here's some of the results.

Nearly half of the Asians and Latinos questioned said they are, quote, "generally afraid of African-Americans because they are responsible for most of the crime." And the poll found over half of African-Americans feel Latin American immigrants are taking jobs, housing and political power away from blacks. Most of the Hispanics and African-Americans believe that, quote, "most Asian business owners do not treat them with respect."

Now, you've written about race and race relations for a while. Were you surprised about this?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Absolutely not, to be honest with you. You know, I think the poll is interesting, but I think what would have been more interesting to me is - if there was a question about how they came to acquire those beliefs because then you get into the fact that, you know, people of color, just like white Americans, are bombarded constantly by these racial stereotypes. And so we're not immune to believing this stuff.

You know, black people can also internalize stereotypes about themselves. And so I think it really goes to show that, you know, racism is really a systemic structural thing that really pervades our society.

CHIDEYA: DJ Black Adam, what do you think?

Mr. GRAVES: I have to agree with what she just said. It - blacks, Latinos and Asians are often bombarded with the same media images of stereotypes and things of that nature that reinforce suspicious beliefs that we may have towards one another. So I agree with her a hundred percent on that.

CHIDEYA: Now, when you think about this, Wayne, there are some positive things in this study, everyone acknowledged the contribution of African-Americans toward civil rights, is that enough to form a basis for understanding between the races or what would form a basis for better understanding?

Mr. BENNETT: I think, Farai, I think what has to happen is that - and I think both your other guests make excellent points about the images and the media-driven stereotypes that we have with each other - I think what we have to do - and I noticed - I think the problem stems from immigration and a lot of people who come to this country from other countries.

And I think what people who come to this country and see the African-American who was born and raised here, what we have to do or these people have to do is understand the African-American experience and be more open to what the African-American has gone through in this country, because we all have our own experiences in our countries and every country is different.

So when you come to this country, you have to understand the African-American experience. And I think that's a good starting point. You cannot come with any preconceived notions based on what you heard in your country or of images that the majority population - or stereotypes of majority population has given you about the African-American who was born and raised in America.

CHIDEYA: Carmen, I've heard similar issues come up even in the context of Africans in America. Black skin does not mean that you all agree. It's not just Africans, but West Indians, other black immigrants, sometimes say, you know what? These black American people need to get their act together. Do you think that this whole question of immigration really is the key?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: I think that's certainly - you know, I actually don't think it's such a bad thing because in the poll, one of the questions, I believe, was comparing people's attitudes towards can you achieve the American dream or can people of any color succeed in America. And there was a very divergent result where African-American mostly disagreed with that, the Hispanics and Asians mostly agreed. And so certainly I think it's important for people to understand how institutional racism works and the oppression that African-Americans have gone through.

But then the fact that, you know, these newer immigrants have a lot of hope and have a lot of ambition and are not so bogged down and feeling like they can't make it is actually not such a bad thing. And I think, you know, you've seen similar results when people survey younger African-Americans. They seem to also have less of this belief that they're not - just not going to be able to make it. So I think that there's really a kernel of hope in there.

CHIDEYA: Wayne, your ancestry is West Indian-Jamaican.

Mr. BENNETT: Yes.

CHIDEYA: Do you see the same issues pop up into - I mean, there's a lot of neighborhoods. I can think of New York where I used to live…

Mr. BENNETT: Yes. Yes.

CHIDEYA: …where there's black Americans born in America…

Mr. BENNETT: Right, right, right.

CHIDEYA: …and West Indians side by side, and there's a lot of…

Mr. BENNETT: Right.

CHIDEYA: …teeth-sucking and neck-rolling.

Mr. BENNETT: That's right. That's right. It's actually - that is a very real phenomenon I think. I remember when I got married to an African-American and a lot of my aunts were, you know, why you couldn't marry a nice Jamaican girl? You know, that little thing. So a lot of it - especially - but Carmen makes a very good point. I think it's a lot of the older West Indians had that problem. And part of it, I understand, comes from that whole British colonialization. And Jamaica, for instance, just got independence in 1963. So a lot of the younger West Indians now, I think, are better able to assimilate with their African-American brothers and sisters.

Now, I think they kind of get it a little more. But it - that is a real phenomenon, Farai. I mean, I think a lot of the older West Indians came here with that ship, you know, we're better than you. Look at you, African-Americans, you don't work hard enough. We're coming for a better way of life and we're educating ourselves and we're doing better.

And I think that caused the problem. And I think, you know, people - you know, we have to learn that we're all a part of one big family, I mean, in terms of being black or brown or Asian or what have you. And I think if - there are some serious issues with that. But I think it's changing, like Carmen said, with the younger generation. I think it's getting better.

CHIDEYA: Now, let me go back to you, Richard, and move us to another topic. The Philadelphia Inquirer just conducted a yearlong investigation into local police tactics and they found that African-Americans are arrested far more frequently than whites in some Philadelphia suburbs, specifically for what are termed nuisance laws. Those are things like noise, loitering, jaywalking. The police say they're not targeting people by race. And the Inquirer spent more than a year analyzing the arrest data.

Now, is this an issue where you think there is a racial bias angle or that it's a cultural angle that people - some people are louder than others, grow up in communities where it's not seen as hostile or even disrespectful to have a large street corner conversation.

There was, in fact, a blog post that I read online by Eisa Ulen about how she feels that in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, as gentrification has happened, some of the guys on the corner - who were not hurting anybody - are being called in for nuisance law. So do you think it's race or culture or both?

Mr. GRAVES: Well, I think it might be a little bit of both on that. I think, culturally, our young African-Americans have a tendency - for some odd reason which baffles me - of wanting to hang out in corners and have discussions or whatever. But I think they need to deal with the social reality that most drug dealing is done on corners.

And I don't think the law enforcement is going - is being difficult or I should say specifically racial when they target people in groups on corners. Because - I mean, I don't know statistically how it works, but in my observation, I go to the south side of Chicago all the time, I see guys standing on the corner, generally, they're dealing. So I can understand them having that presupposition going in.

And I think that what we need to teach our youth to do is change their behavior if they don't want to be targeted because ultimately, people on corners, are drug dealers, as simple as that. Not all of them are not drug dealing, but unfortunately, there's a portion that is. And if law enforcement wasn't getting hits this by doing this, they wouldn't keep doing it.

CHIDEYA: Now, Wayne, you're actually an attorney in Philadelphia.

Mr. BENNETT: Right.

CHIDEYA: What do you know about these laws and enforcement?

Mr. BENNETT: I know a lot about these laws. And quite frankly, a lot of them are unconstitutional. We have so many of these townships here in Pennsylvania and they're always passing these laws. And it's amazing some of these - there are just - a lot of them are so vague and they call for such subjective enforcement that they're really - a lot of them aren't unconstitutional on their face.

But (unintelligible) - as someone who's actually experienced some of these personally, I've been stopped in a few of the townships. And I understand what the other guest is saying about changing behavior and, you know, the whole broken glass theory about targeting bad behavior from its initial course.

But I think there is a problem when we go to these townships because with profiling and so on. Because let's face it, a lot of these towns in and around Philadelphia are pretty lily white. Not all, but most. And the people that are actually enforcing these laws, I mean, to get from point A to point B, there has to be a trigger. And too often, the trigger is, oh, he looks a little different. He doesn't belong in this community. Let me follow him. Let me see what's going on.

And there is some subjective enforcement which I have a problem with. I don't have a problem with people trying to enforce laws and being strict, you know, protecting neighborhoods and so on. But you have to do it constitutionally, you know, within the bounds of the Constitution. And you cannot treat people differently based on (unintelligible).

Mr. GRAVES: Well, I'm kind of confused. I'm not a lawyer. And I'd like to know what your opinion about this. If there is a nuisance law, for example, for sound…

Mr. BENNETT: Right.

Mr. GRAVES: …and there's only so many decibels, and generally, people driving around with their speakers booming - I know they still do so here in Chicago. All right…

Mr. BENNETT: Right.

Mr. GRAVES: …and if you're - if you know that if your booming Ice Cube or T.I. or whatever it is you're listening, to…

Mr. BENNETT: Right, right.

Mr. GRAVES: …if you know that that's going to draw attention, then what is unconstitutional about…

Mr. BENNETT: Right.

Mr. GRAVES: …laws saying you need to turn that down because if you know this is one of the triggers, then turn it down. Everybody in the neighborhood doesn't need to hear T.I. from your radio, so turn it down, so you don't get pulled over. I don't understand what's unconstitutional about expecting that.

Mr. BENNETT: That's a fair point. But now, that particular law might not be unconstitutional if you're enforcing a noise - if you're enforcing a noise ordinance. But here's the problem. If you see someone bumping T.I. and you pull him over but you don't pull over someone bumping Maroon Five, or you don't pull over…

Mr. GRAVES: Okay.

Mr. BENNETT: …you understand what I'm saying? So…

Mr. GRAVES: I can see that. That is a…

Mr. BENNETT: Yeah. It's the - yeah, it's how it's enforced. That's (unintelligible).

CHIDEYA: I want to get to Carmen in a second, but since you mentioned the Constitution, Wayne, what about the whole right to assembly which is part of the Constitution.

Mr. BENNETT: That's right. I don't know - some of these laws - I mean, if they - you know, the loitering laws have been, you know, they're legitimate reasons for loitering laws. But again, when we talk about some of these communities, you have to look at what - we're not - and the gentleman is talking about Chicago which is a very good point. Philadelphia is the same way.

But a lot of these townships, you don't have block after block of 24/7 stores. I mean, you might have a - you might have a gas station or something of that nature. And you know, you might - so, these laws can are enforced totally differently in these suburban neighborhoods than they are on the inner cities, which is the problem.

I mean, you - and again, it comes down to how you enforce them. I mean, a lot of these laws discouraging loitering and so on, yes, they would pass constitutional muster one their face, but when you're talking about how you enforce them, that's when we're off to have a problem. And, you know, that's quite frankly a lot of the times how they get thrown out by the time they get to court, because of…

CHIDEYA: Well, Carmen - let me get Carmen in here. You're doing anti-racism training. If you were to meet with the group of police officers who were considering the heat that they're getting on this, what would you say to them?

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Well, I would definitely encourage them to really look inside themselves and see if they, you know, truly are more likely to stop a black driver than a white driver, and to really recognize the long-term implications of this kind of thing. I mean, if someone, you know, with a completely clean record gets arrested for some small thing like this, you know, that has long-term implications in terms of what kind of jobs they can get. And you know African-Americans are experiencing enough discrimination just based on their skin or their name even as it is. And once you add in this, you know, seemingly, sort of unnecessary arrest on their criminal record, it really has long-term implications.

CHIDEYA: All right. Lady and gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much.

MR. BENNETT: Thank you.

Ms. VAN KERCKHOVE: Thank you.

MR. GRAVES: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: We've been speaking with Carmen Van Kerckhove, co-founder and president of New Demographic, that's an anti-racism training company. She blogs at racialiscious.com and she was at our New York studios. Also speaking with Wayne Bennett, an attorney who blogs as the Fieldnegro. He was at Audio Post studios in Philadelphia, and author and DJ Richard Graves writes the blog DJ Black Adam. He was at WBEZ in Chicago.

You can find links to their blogs and ours at nprnewsandnotes.org. And the conversation doesn't stop there. Our online series Speak Your Mind gives you a chance to sound off on the issues you care about and you can ask a question for Denzel. To find out how, go to out blog nprnewsandviews.org and click on Speak Your Mind.

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