Why I (continue) to need Feminism….

change jar gender pay gap

 

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a representative of a national regulatory agency who liaises between their community outreach arm and local college and universities. As part of giving back to the community, experts at the regulatory agency donate their time to provide workshops on financial literacy, financial planning, leadership and negotiation to women preparing to enter the workforce. They hoped that as director of a women and gender studies program I would be interested in partnering with them to bring their workshops to women students on our campus.

 

Initially I was very excited and called some of my colleagues from around campus together to discuss the possibility of arranging a half-day set of workshops to coincide with Equal Pay Day.

 

[This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men’s and women’s wages.]

 

After an initial phone conference call between my colleagues on campus and the representatives from the regulatory agency I received the following email:

 

“We are concerned that as the Equal Pay Day event is currently structured, it may be perceived that [regulatory agency] is sponsoring and/and or supporting the event and associated interests. Our speakers’ presentations are geared towards educating young women.  We do not feel comfortable promoting these topics as it relates to equal pay, as it is not our area of expertise.”

 

WOW!

 

I toyed with many responses to their email, much of which is not fit to print, and finally, after several days, settled on the following:

 

“I had no idea that pay equity was so controversial! In any case, because inequalities of gender, but also race and sexuality, are at the core of the primary mission of Women and Gender Studies, a program that is not designed to address these inequalities does not align with our mission.”

 

What I really wanted to say was, “how can you possibly have as a goal the enlightenment of women around financial literacy, leadership and negotiation and not include a mention of the wage gap? How can you possibly target young women to prepare them for the workforce and not be comfortable promoting the concept of Equal Pay!”

 

Even Sheryl Sandburg, who initially advised that if women would just “lean in” they would get more promotions, rise up the ladder to lead corporations, and see their wages come closer to their male counterparts, later recognized that opportunities for women, including equal pay, would only come when laws and policies were put into place to guarantee protection from pay discrimination. [Yes, and though President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act on January 29, 2009, the act is so convoluted that it makes actually filing a discrimination case extremely difficult and remote.]

 

I realized long ago, that though the feminist movement needs male allies, until women, all women, understood their shared self-interest, equality would never be achieved. When women don’t see their own oppression, and worse yet, when they refuse to even discuss the possibility that gender inequality exists, for themselves or for any women, we will never convince men that we are worth investing the entire $1 in us.

 

And, I’m among the lucky ones, as a White women, my pay is far more equitable than that of my sisters who are Black and Hispanic. As a White women, I have an obligation to fight for the equal wages of all Americans, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or sexuality.

 

pay gap by race and gender

Patriarchy is a machine that is so deeply entrenched in our society that even when a few women, like Sheryl Sandburg or the women from the regulatory agency, hold one handle on the machine, the machine does not change its course a single inch. The machine of patriarchy is so deeply embedded in every aspect of our culture, that it continues to operate with women operators or with no operators at all.

 

I [continue] to need feminism because I will never by fully valued, I will never be equal, I will never be paid what I’m worth, I will never count, I will never be free, until the machine of patriarchy is dismantled!

 

So, I will not invite the nice ladies from the regulatory agency to talk with my students about financial literacy and leadership and negotiation. I want my students to know the truth and to be supported in seeking and developing tools to dismantle the system of patriarchy so that they have a chance of earning the same wages as their male counterparts and achieving equality in all parts of their lives.

 

For a funny video on the wage gap, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm3YfMtgEdI

The Death Penalty: “But I am Not Guilty”

Death Bed room

More than any other nation, the US still imposes death for capital crimes. In fact, these three very scary words—DEATH ROW EXONERATION– are enough to make you upchuck.

Consider what it must be like if you have been convicted for a crime you did not commit and are now being sentenced to death.

This blog is concerned with the relationship between the growing number of exonerations and the death penalty.

In 1972 the US Supreme Court in a vote of 5 to 4 invalidated all death penalty laws in the country saying they were being arbitrarily applied.  Justice Potter Stewart concurred saying: the Constitution could not “permit this unique penalty to be so wantonly and freakishly imposed.”

The arbitrary nature of applying the death penalty and especially the issue of the race and class status of the majority of the defendants eventually sentenced to death warns that caution definitely needs to be practiced.

Add to this the David Baldus’ findings on the lop-sided application of the state mandated execution of non-Whites and especially Blacks, which also warns that caution needs to be practiced. Baldus (June 23, 1935 – June 13, 2011) ushered in new ways to study social phenomena.   His pioneering research on the death penalty nearly convinced the US Supreme Court in the 1987 Supreme Court decision McCleskey v. Kemp. The Supreme Court decided, though, that statistics did not matter!

Regardless, the Baldus research uncovered a major finding that demonstrated that Blacks were significantly and most importantly disproportionately more likely to be sentenced to death than whites. In addition, regardless of the race of the defendant, those who killed white victims were four times more likely to be sentenced to death than those accused of killing Black victims.

The gist of the Baldus research is this: a death sentence is more likely to be based on the race of the victim, not the offender.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, spoke to this issue in a New York Review of Books column. He put it thus:

That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent southern lynchings.

This becomes all the more important in that most capital murder defendants are poor and unable to mount a legal defense.  And, when court appointed attorneys are representing them they are more likely than not to receive inferior counseling.  Or, a defense that suffers from the ability to harness the resources—-private investigators, scientific experts, independent DNA analysis—that are often critical to successfully establishing one’s innocence.

The systemic nature of injustice is everywhere, leaving this writer to draw the hypothesis that YES, there must be innocent people who have been executed in the United States of America.

Executing the Innocent

The death penalty clearinghouse currently has listed on its web site 11 executions of individuals who may have been innocent.  These are:

Carlos DeLuna          Texas Conviction: 1983                   Executed: 1989

Ruben Cantu             Texas Convicted: 1985                   Executed: 1993

Larry Griffin                 Missouri Conviction: 1981         Executed: 1995

Joseph O’Dell           Virginia Conviction: 1986              Executed: 1997

David Spence           Texas Conviction: 1984                   Executed: 1997

Leo Jones                 Florida Convicted: 1981                  Executed: 1998

Gary Graham             Texas Convicted: 1981                   Executed: 2000

Claude Jones            Texas Convicted 1989                    Executed 2000

Cameron Willingham Texas Convicted: 1992               Executed: 2004

Troy Davis                 Georgia Convicted: 1991                Executed 2011

Lester Bower            Texas Conviction: 1984                   Executed: 2015

http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/executed-possibly-innocent

Many of these executions have drawn considerable attention, some none. The Cameron Willingham case in the Texas arson probe has again gathered considerable attention.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in the US in 1976, there have been 1,425 executions. Snapshot of the last six years:

Executions in 2016 = 3

Executions in 2015 = 28

Executions in 2014 = 35

Executions in 2013 = 39

Executions in 2012 = 43

Executions in 2011 = 43

 

Kirk Bloodsworth would have been one of those executed, had it not been for DNA evidence. Bloodsworth, a jolly White male, is one of many young men sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit; he was convicted in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of a nine year-old girl.  Bloodsworth was exonerated 8 years later.  And, according to Bloodsworth he is the first inmate released from death row based on post-conviction DNA evidence (Junkin 2004).

Prosecutors who take capital cases know that the possibility of executing an innocent person (most likely a male) is a very real possibility.  In the Missouri case of Larry Griffin prosecutor Jennifer Joyce, St Louis circuit attorney, understood this when she said:

Every prosecutor conceptually has the notion that someone innocent can be convicted.

There is strong evidence that the US Justice System has executed innocent men and women.  But we don’t talk about such atrocities.  In a society where only six or seven states have halted “state mandated executions” the execution of men and women still remains a part of the normal processes of everyday life.

Fewer than 20 states have either abolished outright or have placed a moratorium on the death penalty.  This leaves over 50% of states still in the business of executing men and women.

And, up until recently the US executed youth under the age of 18, with most states following recent Supreme Court decisions no longer doing so (Scott 2005).

With nearly 400 exonerations coupled with the long history of carrying out the death penalty it stands to reason that innocent people have been executed.  Because death by state sanction is irreversible, it makes sense to be absolutely certain –“beyond a reasonable doubt”—that the person being executed is guilty.

Yet, there is not even agreement on the US Supreme Court about the level of certainty required to substantiate the imposition of the death penalty.

Scalia

 

In 2006 U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:

It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby. The dissent makes much of the new-found capacity of DNA testing to establish innocence. But in every case of an executed defendant of which I am aware, that technology has confirmed guilt.

Despite Justice Scalia’s assurances that we have never executed an innocent person, exonerations are like the canary in the mine.  They raise serious concerns that we have in fact executed innocent people.

What Justice Scalia fails to address or be concerned with the fact that the appellate process is very narrow in what it allows to be considered in capital cases.  He overlooks, in his assessment that new data—including DNA—is not usually allowed to bring forth a new examination of the case.  Rather he suggests that the original trial by jury that resulted in a conviction based on evidence “beyond a reasonable doubt” and the appeals process that takes place in all death penalty convictions is sufficient to ensure that innocent people are not executed.

Even for those who support the death penalty I argue that “beyond a reasonable doubt” while it plays out in movies and TV programs, assuring the viewer that all evidence has been considered, it is too low a standard for something that is irreversible as an execution.

 

Conclusion

 

DNA testing [has] established conclusively that numerous

persons who had been convicted of capital crimes (by

‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’) were, beyond any

doubt, innocent.

–Judge Jed Rakoff, United States District Court

Southern District of New York United States v. Quinones (2002)   (in Gross, 2013)

 

There are so many cases of faulty justice in death sentences that books could be written about them.  Unfortunately few have been published to date.  One such case is that of Earl Washington.

On January 20, 1984, Earl Washington, a Black man—defended for all of forty minutes by a lawyer who had never tried a death penalty case—was found guilty of rape and murder in the state of Virginia and sentenced to death. After nine years (9) on death row, DNA testing cast doubt on his conviction and saved his life. However, he spent another eight years (8) in prison before more sophisticated DNA technology proved his innocence and convicted the guilty man.

Because of this and so many other cases there should be a 50 state moratorium on the death penalty until we put in place policies and procedures that allow one to be 100% certain that the person being executed did the crime.

 

Sources:

 

Tim Junkin, 2005. Bloodsworth: The True Story of One Man’s Triumph over Injustice. A Shannon Ravenel Book. http://amzn.to/11kXIMZ

 

Garrett, Brandon, 2012. Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

David Grann, 2009, “TRIAL BY FIRE: Did Texas execute an innocent man? SEPTEMBER 7, 2009  http://bit.ly/1Ukabdi

 

Gross, Samuel R., 2013. “How Many False Convictions are There? How Many Exonerations are There”?  Pp. 45-60 in C. R. Huff & M. Killias eds., Wrongful Convictions and Miscarriages of Justice: Causes and Remedies in North American and European Criminal Justice Systems. New York: Routledge,

 

Gross, Samuel R. 2012 “David Baldus and the Legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp.” Iowa Law Review, Vol. 97, No. 6.

 

Scott, Charles, MD, 2005,  “Roper v. Simmons: Can Juvenile Offenders be Executed?” Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and Law 33:4:547-552.

 

 

Image Credits:

 

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonin_Scalia,_SCOTUS_photo_portrait.jpg

 

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SQ_Lethal_Injection_Room.jpg

 

Reflections on Martin Luther King, JR and President Obama

Obama at the MLK memorial

Make America Great Again!—Donald Trump

I feel out of place in our own country—Marco Rubio

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Debates and differences of opinion are a hallmark of democracies. And during every president’s term there are debates about taxes, war, social services just to name a few issues and Obama’s presidency has been no different in this regard. But, the vitriol hurled at Obama is something much different than any president has faced before. It’s personal.

 

From the beginning of his presidency to the end, Obama has faced questions about his citizenship status—the so called “birther” critiques—to his religious beliefs, with some claiming he’s really a “Muslim, “ as if that disqualifies him from being President. Cartoons depict both President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama by tapping into the worst racial stereotypes: monkeys. At the 2009 State of the Union address South Carolina congressman Wilson stood up while Obama was in mid speech and called him a liar.

And, at one of the final GOP debates before the Iowa Caucuses Chris Christie called Obama a “petulant child.”

Many of the GOP candidates for president in 2015 and 2016 are voicing what many Americans apparently feel, that Obama’s policies are problematic, but more importantly Obama’s very presence in the White House represents a threat to the machine of white supremacy; a machine that has for centuries protected the rights of white men, and to a lesser degree white women, and denied access to education, jobs, personal safety, and the American dream to African Americans, Native Americans and everyone else who is labeled “not white” and churned up and spit out by the white supremacy machine. For gosh sakes, if a Black man can be President of the United States, what’s next?

 

On this, the 30th anniversary of the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the end of the presidency of the first African American president, Barack Obama, the rhetoric of the GOP presidential candidates suggests that an apocalypse has taken place, that, in the words of Marco Rubio “we” feel out of place in “our own” country. Yet by all measures, we have not entered a post-racial (or post-anything) society, and the numbers tell the real story.

 

  • African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as White Americans
  • Barely more than half of African American young men will graduate high school and in DC, only 25% of African American students read at grade level
  • African Americans earn, on average, 54% of the wages White Americans earn
  • 50% of African American children live below the poverty line
  • More than 1/3 of African American men will spend time in prison
  • African American men die 10 years earlier than White men
  • African Americans don’t own businesses and they are considerably underrepresented in the Congress; today there isn’t a single African American US Senator.

 

And, for the second year in a row, despite loads of great films and actors of color, the Oscar nominations don’t include a single person of color #OscarsSoWhite.

We are left to wonder what world Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are talking about. One in which African Americans are denied the opportunity to attend the college or university of their choice, let alone the opportunity to get a decent education and graduate from high school? An America in which despite the same credit scores, African Americans are denied fair mortgages? An America in which despite appropriate training and credentials, African Americans earn barely more than half of the wages White Americans earn? An American where African Americans still can’t access the American Dream.

Clearly Donald Trump and Marco Rubio are calling for an America in which an African American is no longer the President of the United States and living in the “White” House. An America in which the wheels of the machine of white supremacy are allowed to churn away unchallenged. Let’s make America great again and let’s retake “our” country. Wake up Donald Trump and Marco Rubio: White America never lost “its” country, “we” only let President Obama visit for awhile.

To read more on the impact of President Obama’s presidency on the African American community check out our book: African American Families: Myths and Realities

 

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