Within a matter of weeks, President Barack Obama took steps to tackle head on two important human rights challenges. On May 9, he came out in support of gay marriage, saying in a television interview with ABC, “At a certain point I've just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Last Friday, the president announced that his administration will stop deporting young migrants who are in the country without legal documentation. “This is the right thing to do,” he said, and immediately an estimated 800,000 young people no longer are subject to deportation.
There is another challenge before Mr. Obama and it is documented in the book The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University professor and civil rights activist Michelle Alexander. It deals with the so-called drug war and its horrendous effects on the African-American community. The points she makes have been published many times but they are worth repeating:
• More African Americans are in prison and jail or on probation than were enslaved in 1850.
• More African-American men have lost the right to vote in 2004 through felony conviction than in 1850.
The “drug war” has become a war against our people that has been systematically destroying our race, depriving families of males either through death at the hands of the police or by warehousing them in prison cells. It was conceived by a president, Richard Nixon, and implemented by another president, Ronald Reagan. Another president can at least start the process of winding down this campaign against blacks.
Mr. Obama should not let the idea percolate too long that he has nothing politically to gain because he already has the black vote or that he does not want to appear to be a “black president.” It is the right thing to do.
At the same time, it must be understood that both the gay community and the Latino communities pressed their case for years before they scored victory. Our leaders must do the same. It is all well and good to become exercised over the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin while his killer was not charged. It is all well and good to become exercised over the New York Police Department’s atrocious “stop and frisk” policy.
But those are merely symptoms of the disease, which is the deliberate, systematic targeting of black Americans for control or capture to ensure that our race remains under the heels of the white majority. Our leaders must go to the root causes of our problems and make this point: Mr. President, stop this unconscionable incarceration of our people. Yes, you can.