Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rapper Murder Reinforces Thug Image of Black Males

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A few years back media outlets took shocking note of a deadly and disturbing phenomenon. A lot of rap artists were suddenly turning up dead. Dead actually is not the right way to describe their deaths. They were murdered, and their murderers in almost all cases were other rappers, or their friends, or the associates of rival rappers. The most celebrate killings were those of rap big wigs Tupac Shakur and Notorious BIG. The rap victims were killed at parties, at nightclubs, in recording studios, or while sitting in their cars. One was even killed while allegedly trying to knock over a convenience store. Since then the body count has climbed even higher with the latest casualty figure being rapper Dolla given name Roderick Anthony Burton II gunned down at a shopping center in Los Angeles.

Dolla’s murder along with those of the others killed again tossed an ugly glare on a problem that has bedeviled the rap business, and a bigger problem that chronically plagues young black males. The personal feuds, jealousies rivalries, and unvarnished gangsterism that is rife among some in the rap industry has deeply planted the sordid image in the minds of many that the rap industry is synonymous with gangs, crime and violence. The Dolla killing reportedly was preceded by a gang brawl in a parking lot outside an Atlanta club. This is an all too familiar rerun of mob brawls that have been the prelude to the murders of the other rappers.

The murders of the rappers have done more than batter an image of an industry branded and universally reviled as violent, self-destructive and self-indulgent. It has also reinforced the stereotypes of young black males as inherently gang attracted and violence prone. Though it is a vicious and unfair stereotype since the overwhelming majority of young black males do not engage in the gratuitous violence of some in the rap world. They have gotten the emblematic rap as being a part of that world because the gun toting rappers and their violence prone hangers ons feed off the bad actor lifestyle and play hard on the us versus them volcanic rage of some young blacks.

But black-on-black violence though exploited, glorified, and even celebrated, especially if there’s a payoff in it, is hardly an invention of rappers. The biggest buyers of and copy cat attraction of rap music and even the rapper lifestyle has been non-blacks. They are the ones who jingle the cash registers for the rap industry. But the bitter truth is that they aren’t the face of the violence in the rap world, and they aren’t the ones that much of the public would never dare finger as the ones responsible for violence and murder among young persons.

Young blacks are the ones who are fingered. And tragically in the last two decades, murder has been at or near the top of the list of the leading causes of death of black males under age 25 years. Their assailants were not white racist cops or Klan nightriders but other black males. Their death tolled has soared because far too many Americans still don’t get too excited about black violence as long as it doesn't spill over the borders of the ghettos into their suburbs.
Pent-up anger and frustration, though, among some black males is only one cause of the dangerous cycle of black-on-black violence. Some black males are engaged in a seemingly eternal desperate search for self-identity and esteem. Their tough talk, swagger, and mannerisms are defense mechanisms they use to boost their esteem. They measure their status or boost their self-worth by demonstrating their proficiency in physical fights, assaults and, yes murder.

Some blacks even make a litany of excuses, such as poverty, broken homes, and abuse, to excuse the violence. These explanations for the mindless violence that thug acting rap entrepreneurs engage in are phony and self-serving. Many of them of the rappers who have landed hard in a court docket are anything but hard-core, dysfunctional poverty cases. Yet the internal rage that propels them to commit thuggish acts still lay dangerously close to the surface.

None of this is consolation to Dolla and his family. Sean "Diddy" Combs who is certainly no stranger to controversy and has had his run ins with the law praised Dolla as a good kid. However, Combs had a cautionary note in his praiseworthy words about Dolla and that was not to take life for granted. His message was not for Dolla but for the potential targets and potential victims of those who exult the gangster violence that many in the rap business seek to make their fortune from exploiting. It’s a message that those within and without that world should heed.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on

Friday, May 08, 2009

Banks Bomb on Stress Tests for Minority Lending

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

A buoyant Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reassured the public that the big 19, that’s the 19 giant banks and financial houses that to hear Geithner tell it the fate of Western capitalism rests on, have passed the Treasury imposed “stress” test with if not flying colors, at least steady drip colors. That wasn’t hard to do. Taxpayers greased the skids of the 19 with more than $50 billion in handouts. And the stress tests were puff ball tests that imposed neither tough nor new government enforced financial requirements or restrictions on the banks.
The debate rages just how much taxpayer cash the banks and financial houses really need, how much more they’ll need, how long they’ll need it, and will the money really ensure permanent solvency. But forgotten in the hubbub over the Geither glossed report is the painful fact that thousands of black and Latino homeowners are still left holding the financial bag for the sub prime mess that taxpayers are forced to bail the banks out of.
Two reports by Fair Finance Watch and the Center for Public Integrity on mortgage lending practices, issued on the eve of the Geithner bank stress test report, revealed that from 2005 to 2007 the 19 bailed out banks and financial houses got into hock to taxpayers to nearly one trillion dollars. They ran up the bulk of the debt through the toxic sub prime loans to mostly minority home buyers. The banks ran up the debt through holding companies, investment houses, financial and real estate subsidiaries and through stock purchases and sales.
The reports also showed that the sub prime loans did little to help revitalize grossly underserved minority communities. In fact Bank of America which holds its cup out for another $ 34 billion taxpayer hand out had one of the lousiest records in lending to minorities. The loans that it did make were far more costly than loans to whites. But B of A was hardly the sole loan bad actor. The top bank welfare recipients raked in tens of billions in profits and taxpayer handouts while engaging in scrooge like lending. When they lent they charged rates that would make loan sharks blush.
Wells Fargo charged African-Americans more than twice as much as whites for home loans. JP Morgan charged African Americans and Latinos more than twice that of whites. Citigroup, US Bancorp and Wachovia charged minorities one and half times more. Blacks and Latinos were more than one and half times more likely than whites to be denied a loan by the top banks that received taxpayer bail out cash. Income had little to do with who the lenders pitched their sub prime loans to. Race and the neighborhoods they lived in were the prime determinants. A HUD study found that upper income blacks were one-and-a-half times as likely to have a sub prime loan as persons that lived in low-income white neighborhoods.

Sub prime lending at times took on elements of loan racketeering; a racket that hurt and still hurts tens of thousands of would be black and Latino homeowners. The lender’s bait and switch tactics, the deliberately garbled contracts, deceptive and faulty lending, questionable accounting practices, and charged hidden fees, all with the connivance of sleepy-eyed see-no-evil oversight of federal regulators, are well known and documented. Their snake oil loan peddling wreaked havoc with thousands of mostly poor, strapped homeowners.
The recent reports on the lending practices of the top banks, though, make clear, that they continued to rake in big profits from the loans, even while padding their bottom line with taxpayer dollars. The banks and holding companies can suffer huge losses from their sub prime loans but still make money, lots of it. HSBC Holding, for instance, reported losses of $10 billion from bad loans in 2007 but it still reported a 5 percent rise in its profits.
Sub prime lending albeit highly profitable for a brief time was not a crushing risk for the banks when the loans went sour. The banks offset their losses through tax write offs, increased loan and service fees and charges, lower saver interest rates, and stock sales and swaps. They have one more trump card to cleanse their toxic debt: the taxpayer’s pocketbook.
They have played that card magnificently. The great flaw in all this is that banks are still largely left to self-police themselves. They determine how much they’ll lend, and to who. They will continue to make loans to minority home buyers, they are required to do that under the terms of the much maligned Community Reinvestment Act, and many of those borrowers will continue to pay dearly for those loans. That’s a stress test that the banks won’t have to take, let alone pass.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Another Cruel and Unusual Punishment for Teens

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Four years ago the US Supreme Court took a big step toward righting a galling wrong. It joined nearly every other nation on the globe and banned teen executions. Now it should take the next big step and dump all laws that let states lock up juvenile offenders for the rest of their life. And there are lots of them. In a report last year, Human Rights Watch found that more than 2000 juvenile offenders are serving life without possibility of parole sentences. The U.S. locks up more juveniles for life without the possibility of parole than all nations combined.

The Court will rule on two Florida cases where juvenile offenders got no parole life sentences. The two cases point up the often appalling legal and racial inequities in the juvenile no parole sentencing. The two men committed crimes when they were 17 years old. The crimes were violent crimes; a rape and an armed home invasion robbery. But in both cases, the evidence, testimony and witness identification were muddled and contradictory. They were still convicted and have spent more than a decade in prison.

As is the case with the death penalty, the no-parole sentences are far from race neutral. In the Florida case, both men are African American. Black teens are ten times more likely to receive a no-parole life sentence than white youths. They are even more likely to get those sentences when their victims are white. This was the case in the Florida convictions, and they are often tried by all-white or majority white juries. Those same juries seldom consider their age as a mitigating factor.

A significant number of juveniles sentenced to no-parole sentences did not actually commit murder but were participants in a robbery or were at the scene of the crime when the death occurred as in the Florida cases. The majority of the teens slapped with the draconian sentence had no prior convictions, and a substantial number were aged 15 or under.

Judges and juries say that violence is violence no matter the age of the perpetrator, and that punishment must be severe to deter crime. Prosecutors and courts in the 40 states that convict and impose no-parole life sentences on juvenile offenders -- with California, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Michigan, and Florida leading the pack -- have repeatedly rejected challenges that teen no-parole sentences are a violation of the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Though murder rates have plunged to near record lows, the public is still scared of violent crime, especially young persons who commit violence. Lawmakers are loath to do anything that will bring public heat on them that they are soft on crime. This is still considered the kiss of death for political careers.

Yet most experts agree that children don't have the same maturity, judgment, or emotional development as adults. In a report on juveniles and the death penalty, Amnesty International found that a number of child offenders sentenced to death suffered severe physical or sexual abuse. Many others were alcohol or drug impaired, or suffered from acute mental illness or brain damage. Nearly all were below average intelligence.

Despite Hollywood sensationalism and media-driven myths about rampaging youth, most experts insist that children are not natural-born predators. If given proper treatment, counseling, skills training and education, most can be turned into productive adults.

An irony in the Supreme Court's 2005 ban on executing teen killers was that the ban actually worked against no-parole reform efforts. Since states could no longer execute juvenile offenders, then the legal thinking was that it was far more humane to sentence them to life sentences. Victims' rights advocacy groups claim that taking away the option of no- parole sentences for juveniles will weaken crime deterrents. This makes it even tougher to make the case that counseling, treatment, and education is the more effective way to redeem young people who commit crimes than harsh sentencing -- but it is.

And there’s the gnawing question of race. The racial gap between black and white juvenile offenders is vast and troubling. The rush to toss the key on black juveniles has had terrible consequences in black communities. It has increased poverty, fractured families, and further criminalized a generation of young black men.

No matter what their age, those who commit crimes -- especially murder -- must be punished, but the punishment should not only fit the crime, it should also fit the age of the person that committed it, and the circumstances that drove them to commit their offenses. If a juvenile offender with the right help can turn their life around, they deserve that chance, and judges should be able to give it to them.

The Supreme Court in its decision to ban juvenile executions called teen executions "shameful." They recognized that the practice cannot, and should not, be justified on moral or legal grounds, and that it was past time to put a stop to teen executions. The court should recognize the same with the no parole sentence for teens and outlaw it.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Michael Steele the Magically Disappearing Negro

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele must have been struck by terminal amnesia. He yukked at and agreed with the swipe a radio caller took at President Obama. The caller called him “the magic negro.” That’s the goofy, tired, worn, ditty that tags Obama as a black man with the supposedly impregnable Teflon shield that renders him immune to any and all criticism, adversity, or just plain bad political luck.

A few weeks back a GOP big shot lambasted then RNC chairman Chip Saltzman for releasing the CD that parodied Obama as the magic negro. The GOP big shot that did the lambasting was Steele. In the short weeks Steele’s been the RNC chief the parade of Steele contradictions, gaffes, shoot from the lip quips, political mugging, media hamming and grandstanding, and alleged financial hijinks, combined with his seemingly insatiable knack for pissing off one and all, and especially one in all in his own GOP, could fill up a mini-telephone book.

The squeals for Steele’s hide by red faced GOP grousers have gotten so loud that even long defrocked GOP bloviator Newt Gingrich had to come to Steele’s rescue. But even that rescue effort seemed more a case of Gingrich using the Steele flap to ax grind with GOP foes than a heart felt bail out of Steele.

Then there’s Limbaugh. Steele first picked a fight with the talk show kingpin, next did a quick mea culpa, and since then has taken pains to zip his lip on the near hourly verbal inanities that gush from the mouth of the GOP’s de facto air waves guru.

Steele’s greatest offense though tells much of why he and the GOP are in what far right-side former Georgia congressman Bob Barr calls deep trouble. He forgot what got him the RNC chair. Steele campaigned hard for the top spot on the promise that he’d be the poor man’s Obama of the GOP. In his acceptance speech Steele prattled on about making the GOP a party of inclusiveness. This is the word that the GOP has forgotten how to say, spell, let alone put into any semblance of practice since Bush loudly declared that it was going to be the party's watchword in 2000, and then just as publicly did everything he could to make sure that it wasn’t.

Steele crunched the numbers and saw that the country’s political and demographic landscape has radically changed in the past decade and will likely change even more in the next decade. There are more minority, women, gay, young, urban, college educated voters than ever and there are fewer white, rural, non college educated, aged, white male votes than ever. It didn’t take a math wizard to figure that if the GOP stays stuck on trying to win national elections with the same bunch that brought victory in years past it will be well on its way to being a party that can hold future conventions in an airport telephone booth.

But numbers and political realities are one thing, the heat Steele took from GOP hardliners who like things just the way they are, and think that the way to shore up the floodwaters is to keep sticking there fingers in the hole in the dike is another. Steele got the message, dutifully added his finger to the the other GOP dike hole pluggers, then made like Limbuagh and made wild sounds about how the GOP moderates were ruining the party, and vowed retribution against them. He ranted about staying true to the GOP’s less government, less foreign policy engagement with foes, less regulations, more free market remedies, tough defense, and bashing Obama. So much for the GOP’s march under General Steele to a new political millenium.

So under Steele’s watch the GOP (and Steele) has supplied legions of comics with a storehouse of laughingstock fodder, degenerated into endless carping and fingerpointing, lost one and soon another Senate seat, and reduced itself to a toothless, fangless political impotency. Under Steele’s watch polls now show that barely one out of five voters now say they have any hard allegiance to the GOP, and that might be overstating the numbers.

Steele guffawed at a radio caller’s magic negro crack about Obama. But so far the only magic that Steele has worked is to create even more chaos in the GOP. That kind of magic may soon make Steele the disappearing negro.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, “The Hutchinson Report” can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and nationally on