A Place In History

naacp-with-leap-and-harvey.jpgAlthough it's looking more likely that the dynamic African-American Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will ascend to the presidency of the United States, a vital report published by local members of the NAACP indicates that "institutionalized racism" continues to play an alarming role in the disproportionate jailing of young black men - locally and across the region.

In fact, nationally there are more black men in prison (almost 1 million) than in college, reports indicate. One-third of all young black males can expect to see prison time, a national and international travesty.

And those are issues - including Obama's historic candidacy - that will be on the minds of folks present at the eighth annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet of the Cheltenham Area Branch, NAACP, Sept. 21 at the Flourtown Country Club, starting 5 p.m. The program will be hosted by radio executive and talk-show personality E. Steven Collins, with state Sen. LeAnna M. Washington presenting Senate citations to honorees.

Although I will be among several community leaders (including the pastor of the LaMott AME Church, the Rev. Keith Hayward and community activist and youth mentor, Steven Tolliver) who'll receive awards with very worthy local students getting scholarships, the alarming statistics in the "Study of Crime, Race and Justice in Selected Jurisdictions of Southeastern Montgomery County" magnify the peril facing black youth.

For instance, in 2007, just "81 white juveniles were arrested compared to 237 black juveniles" in Cheltenham Township, according to the report co-authored by my twin brother, David Scott, chair of the Legal Redress Committee of the NAACP Cheltenham Area Branch and deputy chief of the SEPTA Police Department, as well as Harvey L. Crudup, president of the branch and former deputy commissioner of operations for the Philadelphia Police Department who also served as executive director of the Youth Study Center in Philadelphia. Making major contributions to the wide-ranging (March 2008) report filled with statistics and superb analysis were attorney Cheryl L. Austin, a member of the NAACP's Willow Grove Branch. And so did Brian D. Gralnick, a member of the Cheltenham branch's Legal Redress Committee and vice chair of the Cheltenham Township Substance Abuse and Mental Health Committee. 

They're members of the NAACP's Justice Sub-Committee and greatly concerned about the impact of the legal system disproportionately harming minorities.

"Given the huge investment that has been made in recent years to build new prisons to incarcerate minorities at increasing rates, one can't help to wonder if there is a 'master plan' to take away the freedoms of minorities, particularly African-American males," wrote my brother, Dave. "When the majority of elected officials, who happen to be white , Democratic, and/or Republican introduce and pass legislation that is responsible for the systematic incarceration of minorities at much higher rates than whites, this is institutionalized racism."

He further points out the extremely low representation of black police supervisors in many police departments in the region that can contribute to the problems of racism and adverse community perceptions. 

"As of 2005 there were 83 sworn police officers in the Cheltenham Township Police Department. Only 3 [were] black and no blacks [had at the publication of the report] ever held the rank of supervisor."

Cheltenham Township Police Chief John Norris told me that the department "would love to have more minority officers," but that there simply are not enough applying, despite efforts to target colleges, high schools and other institutions, adding that the hiring of minority recruits is a problem of many nearby police departments. 

However, also aggravating the disproportionate arrest rates of young blacks are mandatory sentencing guidelines that unfairly target blacks and Latinos, including three strikes legislation requiring arrestees to receive long prison sentences, something that "should be repealed because it affects too many nonviolent minority offenders," the report says.

The report recommends other vital steps, including withholding state and federal grants from police departments that "do not hire enough minority officers." Furthermore, there should be an investigation concerning "why minorities/females are not becoming successful candidates" for police departments. "A federal commission should investigate" screening and various requirements that include unfair physical qualifications. And grants must be obtained by various groups to "develop methods to reduce minority juvenile contact with the criminal justice system." 

Other elements of the report address the issue of minority arrests in so-called drug-free zones, as well as the disproportionate amount of minority adults being arrested for crimes ranging from robbery and fraud to vandalism and disorderly conduct in many areas of eastern Montgomery County.

Despite the historic nature of this presidential election, it's imperative for the candidates, including and especially Barack Obama, to address the above issues that are so important to our region, nation and such valued groups as the NAACP.


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