The federal judiciary does not reflect the population that it serves, which has severe consequences for both the institution’s legitimacy and the parties who come before it.
America doesn’t want unity. It wants absolution without restitution
Renee Graham, Boston Globe
Throughout his campaign, and especially during his first speech as president-elect, Joe Biden stressed the need for unity. “Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses,” he said. “It is time for our better angels to prevail.”
Abraham Lincoln first summoned “the better angels of our nature” in his inaugural speech in 1861. A month later, the Civil War began; we’ve been waiting ever since for these rumored apparitions of our nation’s inherent goodness to prevail.
America has never wanted unity. It prefers absolution over restitution.
When this nation’s leaders speak of unity, that often means, “We need to move on,” even though unchecked trauma leaching from one generation to another prohibits any such thing. For many of us, especially Black and brown people, unity is a five-letter word for “Shut up and get over it.” That is how this nation regards calls for repair of systemic disenfranchisement.
Before accord, there must be an accounting — otherwise, it’s like leaving a tick’s head embedded beneath the skin. The problem is less visible, but the host body remains sick and unsound.
In his speech, Biden seemed to speak very specifically about the horrors imposed these past four years. (And they aren’t over.) Of course, what we witnessed during the Trump years was an amplification of the racism and other hatreds that plagued this country long before a failed businessman became a failed president.
“Every day we hear about how society is splitting apart — a polarized Congress, a fragmented media market, a persistent schism among Americans over social issues. But really, how bad are the divisions?” Bob Cohn (now president of The Economist), wrote in The Atlantic. His conclusion: “Pretty bad.”
That was seven years ago. Trump did not create the divisions; he exploited the hell out of them.
About 10 million more people voted for Trump in the 2020 election than in 2016. Again, most of them are white. This I believe: They want to be feared, not understood, and their only definition of unity is aligning against anyone who doesn’t think like them. They’re willing to tear this nation apart with baseless, anti-democracy conspiracies to slake one man’s flimsy ego and their own relevance in an increasingly multiracial, multicultural nation.
Fox News is even chiding Democrats for lobbing “angry rhetoric at those who have worked with and for, and even those who simply support, Trump.” For the president’s propaganda network, achieving unity is a burden to be borne only by those who oppose the president. I don’t hear many Trump supporters reckoning with why they still support the worst president in modern American history.
And that’s par for this country. During a 2017 Harvard conference on universities and slavery, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said, “I don’t know how you conduct research that says your very existence is rooted in a great crime, and you just say, at best, ‘Sorry,’ and walk away.
For its entire existence, America has mostly walked away. From nearly 250 years of Black people in bondage to the genocidal “Trail of Tears” that forced thousands of Indigenous people from their lands in the 1800s; from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre during which white people killed hundreds and destroyed that Oklahoma city’s “Black Wall Street” to every barbarity the current administration concocted to punish those who sought only a better life, this nation continually opts for historical amnesia over atonement.
As the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted, “We can’t skip justice and get to peace.” Nor can we get there without equality.
Scars of this catastrophic presidency will lie alongside festering wounds long untended. There’s no shortcut to unity, a challenge in a nation that would rather be comfortable than truthful. This unfinished democracy will never be whole until all of its practitioners abandon the collective silence that cloaks their complicity. To move toward unity, white supremacy must first be demolished. America has shown no serious inclination to do that, and more than 72 million Trump voters serve as damning proof.
For the sake of this country, I wish Biden every success. I hope he understands that unity is not self-achieving. The most arduous labor must be done by those who have inflicted or benefited from the pain of so many others. Until then, do not ask me to forgive all this nation is too eager to forget.
The United States contains less than five percent of the world’s population but incarcerates one-quarter of all prisoners across the globe. Statistics have long shown that persons of color make up a disproportionate share of the U.S. inmate population. African Americans are five times more likely than whites to serve time in prison. For drug offenses alone, they are imprisoned at rates ten times higher.
Recent scholarship has explored the roots of modern mass incarceration. Launched in the 1980s, the war on drugs and the emergence of private, for-profit prison systems led to the imprisonment of many minorities. Other scholarship has shown that the modern mass incarceration of black Americans was preceded by a 19th century surge in black imprisonment during the Reconstruction era. With the abolition of slavery in 1865, southern whites used the legal system and the carceral state to impose racial, social and economic control over the newly liberated black population. The consequences were stark. In Louisiana, for example, two-thirds of the inmates in the state penitentiary in 1860 were white; just eight years later, two-thirds were black.
Charlotte, an enslaved woman from northern Virginia, experienced several of these institutions firsthand over a 17-year period. Using court records to trace her life illustrates the many official, lawful forms of imprisonment that the enslaved might encounter in the antebellum era.
In 1840, Charlotte was held in bondage in Clarke County, Virginia, west of Washington, D.C. She was only 16 or 18 years old, a dark-skinned, diminutive young woman, standing just four feet 11 inches tall. Legally, she was the property of Eliza Pine, a white woman whom Charlotte despised. Reportedly thinking that committing a crime would prompt Pine to sell her, on March 10, Charlotte set fire to a house in the town of Berryville. She was arrested for starting the blaze and placed in the local jail as she awaited trial.
Enslaved people were imprisoned briefly in local public jails or workhouses under a variety of circumstances. Masters sometimes made use of such facilities to punish bond people deemed troublesome or, if needed, to store them securely. Enslaved individuals apprehended as runaways or awaiting trial or sale at auction also saw the inside of city or county jail cells. In all of these instances, the enslaved usually measured their terms of incarceration in just days or weeks.
In two trials, in 1990, Santana, Wise, Richardson, McCray, and Salaam were convicted of the attack, even though there was no physical evidence tying them to it, only their supposed confessions, which contradicted one another. They were sentenced to terms of between five and fifteen years. The accused came to be known as the Central Park Five, but that, too, was a linguistic dodge. Better to identify them by their number and the scene of their alleged crime than by the brutality visited upon them by an arbitrary justice system and the public opinion that abetted it. In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist, confessed to the crime, and, based on DNA evidence, the charges against the five were vacated. In 2014, the city paid them forty-one million dollars, to settle a federal civil-rights lawsuit.
Michael Vick Is On The Verge Of Pulling Off A Financial Victory No One Could Have Predicted
In the early to mid-2000s, Michael Vick was one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. His running style of football was unheard of at the time. he ran for nearly 4,000 yards in six seasons, and led the Atlanta Falcons to the playoffs twice, winning a game each year. He signed a huge contract and started to live large. Very large.
As we all know, in July 2008 Vick found himself locked up at Leavenworth prison after being convicted of some horrendous crimes against animals. Not only was he locked up, he was also forced to file for bankruptcy protection thanks to the roughly $18 million he owed to a variety of creditors. With no more NFL money coming in, Michael was earning just 12 cents an hour mopping floors at Leavenworth. FYI, paying off $18 million on a salary of 12 cents per hour will take 60 thousand years.
Vick ended up serving 548 days in jail for taking part in an illegal dogfighting ring. He even returned to the NFL, as a member of the Eagles, in 2010. He actually won Comeback Player of the Year that same season. But perhaps most shocking of all, Vick is on the verge of paying off the entire $18 million owed to his creditors. This is especially incredible because Michael easily could have simply walked away from the debt. He instead chose to honor his (literal) obligations.
Since returning to the NFL in 2010, Vick has earned $49 million over five years. But before he signed that first comeback contract, Michael had a very distinct choice to make. He could file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and walk away from all his debts, or file for Chapter 11 and honor every penny. Michael chose Chapter 11.
Let’s repeat that. Michael had the option to file for Chapter 7, in which case the majority of his $18 million debt would have been completely forgiven. But he instead went out of his way to keep those debts active.
How did that risky decision turn out? To date, Michael has paid off more than $15 million, roughly 85%, of the $17.8 million he owes! And there is still a real estate asset that will be sold in the coming months which is expected to bring down the debt down even further. The sale of that asset might even be enough money to pay off his entire remaining balance.
Of course, Vick has had his doubters over the years. Most notably his former team. In March 2009, Vick agreed to pay back The Falcons $6.5 million in salary. Doubting they’d ever see anything from him, in 2011 the team sold its liability at a big discount to Fortress Capital, an investment firm co-founded by Wesley Edens, the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. Vick ended up paying off every cent of the debt he owed.
In order to pay off his creditors, Vick has been living on a $300,000 a year budget. More than 50% of what he’s made since mounting his comeback has gone to taxes and legal fees. Anything leftover is being put into savings.
While Vick will return to his normal lifestyle in the new year, he says he won’t spend money like he used to. He realizes he doesn’t need to buy things like boats, but as a self-proclaimed car guy, he’ll still buy cars. Let’s just hope he gets a good deal on them.
So at what point do we forgive Michael Vick? Or has that already happened?