Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Donna Edwards for U.S. Senate

I recently asked my wife whether we could put a "Black Representation Matters" sign in our yard, alongside the "Black Lives Matter" sign we got last year. But what would my sign actually read? It would say: Donna Edwards for U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senate candidate Donna Edwards. (AFGE photo.)
Edwards is a black woman, running for a seat in a 100-member body with only two African American members and only twenty women. Senator Barbara Mikulski, one of the twenty, represents Maryland and is retiring.

Only nine African Americans have served in the Senate, ever. Barack Obama is one of the nine. Would Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley treat the president's appointments and initiatives with such disdain, were minorities represented in the Senate in proportion to their numbers?

The problem is us. Consider that Maryland has elected only one African American to statewide office in the state's entire history. In Maryland and nationwide, blacks are most often elected to state office and Congress from majority-minority districts. These districts are too-often the product of gerrymandering designed in some cases to promote a minority representative's election, in others to wall-off minorities (read: Democratic voters) to maximize the number of Republican seats.

Actually, I can think of only four woman ever elected statewide in Maryland. We're not doing so well, are we?

I have more to say on race and representation, but I will break to note that:
  • Donna Edwards is an experienced, able legislator who has represented Maryland's 4th district in Congress since 2008.
  • "Independent analyses often find that the Prince George's County lawmaker is among the most liberal members of the [House Democratic] caucus." (Baltimore Sun)
  • 64% of Maryland registered Democrats view Edwards favorably, according to a recent Washington Post-Univ. of Maryland poll. (Washington Post)
Marylanders believe Edwards cares about them and will work for them on their issues, on issues that include Social Security and Medicare, gun violence and police misconduct, and poverty, hunger, education, and opportunity. These are pressing matters.

No elected official lacks flaws. Edwards has weak points and so does her opponent Chris Van Hollen, a distinguished legislator who represents me and whom I respect immensely. The Baltimore Sun describes controversy about Van Hollen's past stands on Social Security cuts. Maryland-specific: Rep. Van Hollen was instrumental in obtaining tens of millions of dollars in federal funding for the Intercounty Connector (ICC), former Governor Robert Ehrlich's widely derided pet project, revived after Ehrlich's Democratic predecessor, Governor Parris N. Glendening, killed it. Better the funding had gone to transit -- the Purple Line and WMATA -- than a boondoggle highway.

How do Maryland registered Democrats see the U.S. Senate
candidates? (Washington Post)
The positions-effectiveness question is not a slam-dunk for either Senate candidate.

Overall, Van Hollen has been a model legislator, but considering the spectrum of Maryland needs, he is not the better choice. It is telling that when it comes to addressing the needs of women and of African Americans, Edwards outpolls Van Hollen by 78-56 and 74-54, respectively, according to the Post-UMd poll. These needs outweigh other priorities for me at this time, with the Democrats poised to retain the presidency and retake the Senate majority. So again I find:

Donna Edwards is the progressive candidate who is the best choice to represent the diversity of Marylanders in the U.S. Senate.

Back to the race issue. It runs deep and wide.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reports, "African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but only 0.9 percent of top Senate staffers," as of April 2015.

I learned about that report from a Daily Beast article titled The US Senate: The World’s Whitest Deliberative Body. Author Keli Goff offers that view that "[b]eyond idealism, there is a very real policy deficit we face as a country when we have people who have never experienced problems firsthand, tasked with crafting solutions for those problems." She cites a lack of federal action on racial profiling and police brutality and cites the work of Senator Tim Scott, who is African American, to secure federal funding for police body cameras to address the latter problem. Goff believes "it is not a coincidence that President Obama has made college accessibility and affordability legislative priorities during his time in elected office."

Another observation, from columnist Thomas Edsall in the New York Times: "The Democratic debt to black voters is immense, and the party has not paid up." Edsall's column asks, "Will the Democrats Ever Face an African-American Revolt?" Edsall's indictment: "Public officials — and the Democratic Party — have, in point of fact, failed to deliver housing, employment, or education programs that convincingly remediate the problems of poor black families."

Edsall sees a solution in "different 'deliberate policy choices'." I'm surprised he didn't bring up the complexion of the Democratic elites. The ones we have (per Keli Goff) have never experienced the most pressing problems firsthand. They are not representing. Let's change that via our votes in the 2016 Maryland U.S. Senate race.

My wife hasn't said yes to a yard sign, but I know how I will cast my Democratic primary vote: Donna Edwards for U.S. Senate.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

For Better Police-Community Relations, Listen

Police-community relations is a sensitive topic, racially charged, critical to individuals' feelings of safety and belonging in any diverse and crime-challenged community. I wouldn't say the crime or relations situations in Takoma Park and Silver Spring are bad, but community members do have well-founded concerns about police interactions, particularly those that involve minority youth. What can the City of Takoma Park and the community do to improve relations here? Takoma Park Councilmember Terry Seamens has long pushed for police involvement in city recreation programs, and Mayor Kate Stewart, as a councilmember, promoted city funding for police-community relations consulting, currently pending. Many community members have advocated meaningful community oriented policing (COP). I'll say only that public and police understandings of COP seem to differ.

Charleston Illumination Project
Given this backdrop, I was intrigued by the Charleston (South Carolina) Illumination Project, which I learned about during a spring break vacation visit. According to the project Web site,
"The City of Charleston began a year-long project to further strengthen relationships between the citizens and police by respecting the importance of Public Safety and Individual Rights... We all want and benefit from a respectful relationship between the police and the communities they serve. We are seeking your voice to help create a plan that will help insure greater teamwork and the long-term success of our communities."
Illumination and mutual respect are essential, as is the focus on teamwork. The project includes a series of police listening sessions:
"We are looking for your hopes, concerns and plans to build open and long-lasting relationships between the police and the citizens they serve."
"We" is a foundation called the Charleston Police Fund. It's unclear when the fund was founded, but I'll note certain special circumstances in Charleston and nearby: Last June's Mother Emanuel (the Emanuel AME Church) murder of nine worshipers and the April 2015 fatal shooting, by a police officer in North Charleston, S.C., of an apparently unarmed man, Walter Scott, after a scuffle following a traffic stop. Incidents of this sort don't just happen; they're the product of circumstances that foster violent, hateful, racist responses to differences.

Fortunately, we've had nothing like these incidents in Montgomery County. Our local governments have worked to avoid them. Also locally, Safe Silver Spring, a community initiative, has contributed to community-police understanding.

The City of Takoma Park issued and then reissued a request for proposals for a police-community relations consultant. The proposal deadline was January 28, but I understand that the city did not receive a strong response. Puzzling.

Regardless, the city could and should conduct listening sessions like Charleston's, actively promoted and moderated by an independent facilitator. These community relations sessions would complement the neighborhood crime meetings the police department participates in. You don't need a consultant to tell you that people like to be asked their views and to be heard. There is no better way to start learning than to listen.